Vanderbilt Biophotonics Center collaboration seeks earlier diagnosis of throat cancer

Cancers of the tonsils and the base of the tongue related to the human papillomavirus (HPV) are frequently small, often with no early-stage symptoms, so many patients go undiagnosed until tumors have spread to lymph nodes in the neck.

Oropharyngeal cancers—cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils–are the most common among men, according to a United States Cancer Statistics Data Brief issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in August 2018. Based on data from 2011 to 2015, about 42,700 new cases of HPV-associated cancers occurred in the United States each year.

Vanderbilt researchers in the schools of engineering and medicine are exploring the feasibility of using Raman spectroscopy for early detection of HPV-related cancers of the throat in order to reduce the need for biopsies and to offer less intensive therapies.

The collaborative project brings together Professor of Biomedical Engineering Anita Mahadevan-Jansen, director of the Vanderbilt Biophotonics Center and Orrin H. Ingram Professor of Engineering, and Giju Thomas, postdoctoral researcher in biomedical engineering; physicians Young J. Kim, Carey Burton Wood and Justin Shinn, Department of Otolaryngology; and Krystle Kuhs, Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Medicine, and Tanner J. McArdle, second-year medical student. The project is part of a Trans-Institutional Programs (TIPs) grant on HPV-associated cancers.