Head and neck cancer patients who test positive for human papillomavirus (HPV) have a better rate of survival than patients that don’t have the virus, according to new research published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.
The researchers also discovered that African-American patients in the study had a low rate of HPV infection, and consequently worse survival rates, which may help explain why blacks have traditionally had a poorer head and neck cancer survival.
“Currently, there is no consensus to suggest why blacks fare worse with head and neck cancer than that of whites, but this is the first sign that it may be biologic rather than related to issues of access, insurance or provider attitudes,” senior study author Dr. Kevin Cullen, director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center.
Researchers found the average overall rate of survival was 70.6 months for white patients compared to 20.9 months for black patients treated with chemotherapy and radiation. Median survival was 26.6 months for HPV-negative patients, while HPV-positive rates couldn’t be calculated because most patients were still alive.
Researchers found that four percent of black patients and 34 percent of white patients were HPV-positive.
Dr. Cullen added, “We need to routinely analyze HPV in specific patient’s with head and neck cancer, which were are currently not doing. HPV-positive cancer is biologically different than HPV-negative cancer, and that needs to be taken into account as we prepare future therapies.”
Scott Lippman, M.D., chairman of the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, called the study, "practice-changing."
"Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for 90 percent of all head and neck cancers. The study findings will give us a new way to assess prognosis for our patients," Lippman said in the news release.
According to the CDC, an estimated 1,700 new cases of HPV-associated head and neck cancers are diagnosed in women and about 5,700 are diagnosed in men each year in the U.S. #