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Twice as many HPV-positive patients with DM were treated compared with HPV-negative patients, and this was one factor that led to the better survival of HPV-positive individuals. For example, 40 HPV-positive patients received radiation therapy versus eight patients who were HPV-negative. Sixteen HPV-positive patients underwent surgery versus four HPV-negative patients who did not, and 19 HPV-positive patients received chemotherapy while only six in the HPV-negative group did. The HPV-positive patients who received intensive treatments experienced long disease-free periods compared with the HPV-negative patients who received less aggressive treatment. Their disease progressed more slowly and their treatments came later, often too late.

Huang also said that HPV-positive cancer is more sensitive to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Another factor was the age of the patients. HPV-positive patients are often younger, with an average age at diagnosis of 55 years compared with 65 years for the HPV-negative patients, and they have fewer other health problems, such as smoking-related illnesses. These important factors enable HPV-positive patients to receive more intensive treatments.

The Toronto group hopes their results will encourage physicians to treat cases of HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer earlier and more aggressively.1

Bette Weinstein Kaplan is a medical writer based in Tenafly, New Jersey. 


1. Huang S, Waldron J, O’Sullivan B, et al. ‘Cure’ is a realistic goal in HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer with oligometastasis. Paper presented at: 5th International Conference on Innovative Approaches in Head and Neck Oncology (ICHNO); February 12-14, 2015; Nice, France.