Oral Microbiome Profiling in Smokers with and without Head and Neck Cancer Reveals Variations Between Health and Disease

Ashok Kumar Sharma, William T. DeBusk, Irina Stepanov, Andres Gomez, Samir S. Khariwala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


While smoking is inextricably linked to oral/head and neck cancer (HNSCC), only a small fraction of smokers develop HNSCC. Thus, we have sought to identify other factors, which may influence the development of HNSCC in smokers including microbiology. To determine microbial associations with HNSCC among tobacco users, we characterized oral microbiome composition in smokers with and without HNSCC. 16S rRNA MiSeq sequencing was used to examine the oral mucosa microbiome of 27 smokers with (cases) and 24 without HNSCC (controls). In addition, we correlated previously reported levels of DNA damage with the microbiome data. Smokers with HNSCC showed lower microbiome richness compared with controls (q = 0.012). Beta-diversity analyses, assessed as UniFrac (weighted and unweighted) and Bray-Curtis distances, showed significant differences in oral mucosal microbiome signatures between cases and controls (r2 = 0.03; P = 0.03) and higher interindividual microbiome heterogeneity in the former (q ≤ 0.01). Higher relative abundance of Stenotrophomonas and Comamonadaceae and predicted bacterial pathways mainly involved in xenobiotic and amine degradation were found in cases compared with controls. The latter, in contrast, exhibited higher abundance of common oral commensals and predicted sugar degradation pathways. Finally, levels of DNA damage in the oral cavity were correlated with the microbiome profiles above. Oral microbiome traits differ in smokers with and without HNSCC, potentially informing the risk of eventual HNSCC and shedding light into possible microbially mediated mechanisms of disease. These findings present data that may be useful in screening efforts for HNSCC among smokers who are unable to quit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)463-474
Number of pages12
JournalCancer Prevention Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
©2020 American Association for Cancer Research.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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