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Curr Oncol. 2013 Aug;20(4):212-9. doi: 10.3747/co.20.1375.

The epidemic of human papillomavirus and oropharyngeal cancer in a Canadian population.

Author information

1
Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, The University of Western Ontario, London, ON. ; London Regional Cancer Program, London, ON. ; Lawson Health Research Institute, London, ON. ; Department of Oncology, The University of Western Ontario, London, ON. ; Department of Pathology, The University of Western Ontario, London, ON.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Sexually transmitted infection with the human papillomavirus (hpv) is responsible for a significant burden of human cancers involving the cervix, anogenital tract, and oropharynx. Studies in the United States and Europe have demonstrated an alarming increase in the frequency of hpv-positive oropharyngeal cancer, but the same direct evidence does not exist in Canada.

METHODS:

Using the London Health Sciences Centre pathology database, we identified tonsillar cancers diagnosed between 1993 and 2011. Real-time polymerase chain reaction was then used on pre-treatment primary-site biopsy samples to test for dna from the high-risk hpv types 16 and 18. The study cohort was divided into three time periods: 1993-1999, 2000-2005, and 2006-2011.

RESULTS:

Of 160 tumour samples identified, 91 (57%) were positive for hpv 16. The total number of tonsillar cancers significantly increased from 1993-1999 to 2006-2011 (32 vs. 68), and the proportion of cases that were hpv-positive substantially increased (25% vs. 62%, p < 0.002). Those changes were associated with a marked improvement in 5-year overall survival (39% in 1993-1999 vs. 84% in 2006-2011, p < 0.001). When all factors were included in a multivariable model, only hpv status predicted treatment outcome.

INTERPRETATION:

The present study is the first to provide direct evidence that hpv-related oropharyngeal cancer is increasing in incidence in a Canadian population. Given the long lag time between hpv infection and clinically apparent malignancy, oropharyngeal cancer will be a significant clinical problem for the foreseeable future despite vaccination efforts.

KEYWORDS:

Human papillomavirus; epidemiology; hnscc; oropharyngeal cancer

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