The role of human papillomavirus (HPV) in the causation of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma is unclear. We examined the associations between esophageal squamous cell carcinoma and 28 centrally measured HPV serological markers in serum from six existing case–control studies conducted in regions with differing background risks of esophageal cancer.
We used centralized multiplex serology to test serum samples from 1561 case subjects and 2502 control subjects from six case–control studies for antibodies to the major HPV capsid protein (L1) and/or the early proteins E6 and/or E7 of eight high-risk, two low-risk, and four cutaneous HPV types. Study-specific odds ratios (ORs) and corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were estimated using conditional logistic regression with adjustment for smoking, alcohol consumption, and other potential confounders. Pooled odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals were calculated using either a linear mixed-effects approach or a joint fixed-effects approach. All statistical tests were two-sided.
We found statistically significant associations between esophageal squamous cell carcinoma and antibodies to E6 for HPV16 (OR = 1.89, 95% CI = 1.09 to 3.29, P = .023) and HPV6 (OR = 2.53, 95% CI = 1.51 to 4.25, P < .001) but not for other tested HPV types. There were no statistically significant associations between esophageal squamous cell carcinoma and antibodies to E7 for any of the tested HPV types. Simultaneous seropositivity for HPV16 E6 and E7 was rare (four case subjects, two control subjects; OR = 5.57, 95% CI = 0.90 to 34.35; P = .064). We also found statistically significant associations between esophageal squamous cell carcinoma and capsid antibodies for the high-risk mucosal type HPV33 L1 (OR = 1.30, 95% CI = 1.00 to 1.69; P = .047) and the low-risk mucosal types HPV6 (OR = 1.22, 95% CI = 1.05 to 1.42; P = .010) and HPV11 (OR = 1.30, 95% CI = 1.09 to 1.56, P = .0036).
We found limited serological evidence of an association between esophageal squamous cell carcinoma and HPV in the populations studied. Although HPV does not appear to be an important risk factor for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, we cannot exclude the possibility that certain HPV types may be involved in a small subset of cancers.