Human papillomavirus-related oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (HPV-OPSCC) presents frequently as metastasis in a neck lymph node that may be cystic or necrotic. Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsies are often first-line diagnostic procedures. p16 immunohistochemistry (IHC) is a surrogate marker for high-risk HPV (hrHPV) infection but can be challenging to interpret. This study evaluated the use of hrHPV in situ hybridization (ISH) in cytology cell blocks of cystic neck lesions.
Twenty-four FNA cases with cell blocks and surgical correlates were evaluated. p16 IHC and hrHPV ISH were assessed on cell blocks (C-p16 and C-hrHPV ISH), and hrHPV ISH on surgical samples (S-hrHPV ISH). All results were classified as negative, positive, or equivocal.
Two cases were excluded because of insufficient tissue on recut. On the basis of C-hrHPV ISH cases, 12 were positive, 5 were negative, and 5 were equivocal. All 12 positive C-hrHPV ISH cases had concordant S-hrHPV ISH with no false positives. Of the 5 negative C-hrHPV ISH cases, 4 had concordant S-hrHPV ISH, and 1 had a discordant S-hrHPV ISH. Of the 5 equivocal C-hrHPV ISH cases, S-hrHPV ISH were both positive and negative. Fourteen cases were equivocal by C-p16; 9 cases were reliably classified by C-hrHPV ISH (5 positive, 4 negative; 64%).
C-hrHPV ISH can be reliably used, especially when positive. A negative or equivocal interpretation of C-hrHPV ISH may warrant repeat testing. Compared to C-p16, C-hrHPV ISH is more frequently diagnostic and could be helpful for HPV-OSCC diagnosis and management.

© 2021 American Cancer Society.