HPV-Positive Throat Cancer Patients Lived Longer

Oropharyngeal cancer patients with HPV fared better than those without HPV

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Human papilloma virus (HPV) causes most head and neck cancers. For patients with these cancers, however, being HPV-positive may improve survival compared to being HPV-negative.

Previous studies have shown that patients who have head and neck cancer cells that test positive for HPV respond better to treatment than those who are HPV-negative.

New research has found that HPV-positive patients with oropharyngeal cancer, which attacks the tongue, the tonsils, the soft palate and the throat (or pharynx), lived longer compared to those who tested HPV-negative. These HPV-positive patients lived longer even after their cancer had progressed.

"Have a serious discussion with your oncologist about what to expect after cancer diagnosis."

Carole Fakhry, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, and her colleagues analyzed data on 181 patients with late-stage oropharyngeal cancer. A total of 105 of these patients had tested positive for HPV and 76 were HPV-negative. All of the participants were receiving chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

HPVs are a group of more than 150 related viruses, 40 of which are easily transmitted through sexual contact. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), more than half of sexually active people are infected with one or more HPV types at some point in their lives. Certain types of HPV may cause cancer.

While HPV is often thought of in relation to cervical cancer, it can also cause oropharynx cancer. In the US, more than half of these cancers are linked to HPV type 16, according to the NCI. The participants in this investigation had HPV type 16.

After an average of four years of follow-up, Dr. Fakhry and team found that the survival rate for HPV-positive individuals was about double that of those who were HPV-negative — 54.6 percent versus 27.6 percent.

The researchers also found that both HPV-positive and HPV-negative patients who had surgery to remove cancerous tissue after cancer recurrence were likely to live longer than those who did not have surgery. Patients who had surgical salvage (removal of cancerous tissue) had an estimated 52 percent reduction in the risk of death after disease progression, wrote the authors.

Dr. Fakhry told dailyRx News, “This study demonstrates that HPV tumor status remains an independent marker of survival even after disease progression. This is significant for patient counseling. Surgical salvage is also an independent marker of improved survival.”

This study adds to evidence from previous research showing that patients with HPV-positive tumors may have a better outlook than patients whose tumors were HPV-negative.

This research was published in June in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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Review Date: 
June 25, 2014
Last Updated:
June 25, 2014