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HPV status may affect risk of early death in patients with oropharynx cancer

January 13, 2020

New research indicates that there is a higher risk of early death among patients with oropharynx cancer when not caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), than those whose tumors are HPV-positive. The findings are published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

The incidence of oropharynx cancer--a type of throat cancer that occurs in the tonsils and base of the tongue--is increasing in the United States, with rates that are more than twice as high in men than in women. Recent evidence has shown that approximately 75 percent of these cancers are due to infection with HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that can mostly be prevented through vaccination.

A team led by Danielle N. Margalit, MD, MPH, of the Dana-Farber/Brigham & Women's Cancer Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston, designed a study to better understand the causes and risks of early death among patients with oropharynx cancer and to determine how these risks differ in patients with and without HPV-related tumors.

The researchers' analysis included information on 4,930 U.S. patients who were diagnosed with nonmetastatic oropharynx cancer from 2013 to 2014, including 3,560 whose cancers were HPV-positive and 1,370 whose cancers were HPV-negative. Patients were followed for a median of 11 months.

Compared with patients whose cancers were HPV-negative, those whose cancers were HPV-positive had a lower risk of dying from any cause within two years (10.4 percent versus 33.3 percent) and a lower risk of dying from head and neck cancer (4.8 percent versus 16.2 percent). Patients who had HPV-positive oropharynx cancer also had a lower risk of dying from cancers other than head and neck cancer.

"The study is really eye-opening when it comes to the high risk of death among patients with HPV-negative oropharynx cancer," said Dr. Margalit. "The information can be put to use by clinicians who see patients after treatment. They need to be vigilant not just about head and neck cancer recurrence, but also about screening for other cancers and non-cancer comorbidities that can influence patients' risk of early death, and they should counsel patients on addressing modifiable risk factors."
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Full Citation: "Short-term mortality risks among patients with oropharynx cancer by human papillomavirus status." Zoe H. Fullerton, Santino S. Butler, Brandon A. Mahal, Vinayak Muralidhar, Jonathan D. Schoenfeld, Roy B. Tishler, and Danielle N. Margalit. CANCER; Published Online: January 13, 2020 (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.32652).

URL Upon Publication: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/cncr.32652

Author Contact: John W Noble of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's newsroom, at johnw_noble@dfci.harvard.edu or +1 617-632-5784.

About the Journal

CANCER is a peer-reviewed publication of the American Cancer Society integrating scientific information from worldwide sources for all oncologic specialties. The objective of CANCER is to provide an interdisciplinary forum for the exchange of information among oncologic disciplines concerned with the etiology, course, and treatment of human cancer. CANCER is published on behalf of the American Cancer Society by Wiley and can be accessed online.

Follow us on Twitter @JournalCancer

About Wiley

Wiley drives the world forward with research and education. Through publishing, platforms and services, we help students, researchers, universities, and corporations to achieve their goals in an ever-changing world. For more than 200 years, we have delivered consistent performance to all of our stakeholders. The Company's website can be accessed at http://www.wiley.com.

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