HPV-Related Throat Cancers Fare Better

Throat cancers related to HPV have better outcomes

(RxWiki News) The human papilloma virus (HPV) has surpassed smoking, drinking and poor diet as the leading cause of oral cancers in this country.

New research is showing that people with HPV oral cancers have a better outlook than those whose oral cancers are not caused by HPV.

Findings from a review of a large Danish database suggest that people with HPV-positive oropharyngeal (throat) cancer who are light smokers can be treated with radiotherapy alone and don't need chemotherapy.

These folks also had a better overall outcome than people with HPV-negative throat cancer.

"Talk to your doctor if you ever feel a lump in your throat that doesn't go away."

Dr. Pernille Lassen, a resident in medical and radiation oncology and researcher at Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark, presented her research at the 31st conference of the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO 31).

"We consider the present findings an important contribution to the ongoing debate on how to treat patients according to known independent prognostic factors, in this case, tumor HPV-status and smoking history," said Dr. Lassen.

"These findings confirm the highly significant independent influence of HPV status on tumor control and survival in advanced oropharyngeal cancer that is treated with radiotherapy alone, without chemotherapy." 

For the study, Dr. Lassen and her team analyzed information on 181 patients on the Danish Head and Neck Cancer Group (DAHANCA) database. They had been treated between 1992 and 2005 for advanced throat cancer that had spread beyond its original site.

Participants received accelerated radiotherapy and a drug that sensitizes the cancer cells to the radiation. No patients received chemotherapy.

Researchers also looked at smoking history. Patients who had smoked a pack a day for 10 years (10 pack-years) had better outcomes than those who had smoked longer or had HPV-negative cancers in terms of disease course and survival.

Dr. Lassen said it's too soon to choose patients for a specific treatment based on this information; more data is needed, she says.

Several randomized trials are currently investigating treatment of patients according to HPV status.

"This will give us important information," said Dr Lassen. "In the meantime, we will try to identify more patients with advanced oropharyngeal cancer and known smoking status in the DAHANCA database, in order to enlarge the present cohort, making the data more robust." 

All research is considered preliminary before it's published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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Review Date: 
May 9, 2012