Abnormal cytology in oropharyngeal brushings and in oral rinses is not associated with HPV infection: The OHMAR study

Maria Benevolo, Francesca Rollo, Massimo Giuliani, Barbara Pichi, Alessandra Latini, Raul Pellini, Maria Fenicia Vescio, Aldo Morrone, Antonio Cristaudo, Maria Gabriella Donà

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: No screening is available for human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated oropharyngeal cancers. The authors investigated whether cytology may be used as a screening tool and whether oral HPV infection is associated with cytologic abnormalities detected in oropharyngeal brushings and in oral rinse-and-gargle specimens from asymptomatic individuals at increased risk for oral HPV infection. Methods: Specimens were collected from men who have sex with men at 6-month intervals. Oropharyngeal samples and oral rinse-and-gargle specimens were collected using a cytobrush and mouthwash, respectively. Exfoliated cells were dispersed in PreservCyt. Liquid-based slides were stained with Papanicolaou. An HPV genotyping test using a linear array was used for HPV detection. Associations with abnormal cytology were investigated using logistic regression. Results: Overall, 631 brushings and 802 rinses collected from 310 individuals were evaluated; of these specimens, 2 brushings (0.3%) and 10 rinses (1.2%) were inadequate for morphologic evaluation. Of the adequate samples, 35 of 629 brushings (5.5%) and 19 of 792 rinses (2.4%) were abnormal. No associations of high-risk HPVs or HPV-16 infection with cytologic abnormalities were observed for oropharyngeal brushings (high-risk HPVs: odds ratio [OR], 1.19; 95% CI, 0.41-3.50; P =.75; HPV-16: OR, 0.76; 95% CI, 0.10-5.84; P =.79) or for oral rinses (high-risk HPVs: OR, 1.13; 95% CI, 0.26-4.98; P =.87; HPV-16: OR, 0.62; 95% CI, 0.04-10.60; P =.74). Concurrent moderate/heavy drinking and smoking significantly increased the risk of cytologic abnormalities in the brushings (hazard ratio, 4.84; 95% CI, 1.15-20.43; P =.03). Conclusions: Oral HPV infection by high-risk HPVs and HPV-16 does not confer an increased risk of cytologic abnormalities in oropharyngeal brushings and oral rinses. Abnormal cytology seems to be associated with smoking and drinking habits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)648-655
Number of pages8
JournalCancer cytopathology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2020


  • brushing
  • HIV
  • human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • liquid-based cytology
  • men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • oral rinse
  • oropharyngeal neoplasms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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