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HPV and p16 Testing in Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Methodology, Interpretation, and Significance

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)

Slide 22

March 2012

The best feature of the polymerase chain reaction in HPV detection is its high level of sensitivity. PCR is capable of detecting an incredibly low volume of viral transcripts.

Depending on what you are referring to, the specificity of PCR can be regarded as high or low. This assay is specific in that the primers may be designed for a unique sequence of interest (ie primers that recognize consensus sequences or even sequences of particular genotypes). On the other hand, the specificity may also be regarded as low because its sensitivity is so great that viral DNA from histologically normal mucosa or contaminants can potentially give rise to false-positive results.

Unfortunately, PCR results cannot be correlated with light microscopic evaluation. Results are essentially regarded as positive or negative, there is no way of determining if the detected transcripts are from diseased or normal tissue, or even a contaminant. In this same vein, HPV detection by PCR gives no information about episomal or integrated status. Furthermore, it grants no insight into the expression status of the viral genome.

Lastly, PCR is laborious and relatively few labs offer HPV detection as a clinical test.

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)


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