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World J Clin Oncol. 2014 Oct 10;5(4):781-91. doi: 10.5306/wjco.v5.i4.781.

Clinical and scientific impact of human papillomavirus on head and neck cancer.

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Jeffrey M Friedman, Mark J Stavas, Anthony J Cmelak, Department of Radiation Oncology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN 37232, United States.


Head and neck cancer (HNC) arises from the skull base to the clavicles and is the fifth most common cancer in the world by incidence. Historically, in the developed world HNC was associated with tobacco use and alcohol consumption, and the combination of the two produced a synergistic increase in risk. However, beginning in 1983, investigators have found a significant and growing proportion of HNC patients with human papillomavirus-positive (HPV) tumors who neither drank nor used tobacco. Since that time, there has been increased interest in the molecular biology of HPV-positive HNC. Multiple studies now show that HPV has shifted the epidemiological landscape and prognosis of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). These studies provide strong evidence for improved survival outcomes in patients with HPV-positive HNSCC compared to those with HPV-negative HNSCC. In many reports, HPV status is the strongest predictor of locoregional control, disease specific survival and overall survival. In response to these findings, there has been significant interest in the best management of HPV-positive disease. Discussions within major cooperative groups consider new trials designed to maintain the current strong survival outcomes while reducing the long-term treatment-related toxicities. This review will highlight the epidemiological, clinical and molecular discoveries surrounding HPV-related HNSCC over the recent decades and we conclude by suggesting how these findings may guide future treatment approaches.


Chemotherapy; Head and neck cancer; Human papilloma virus; Molecular biology; Radiation; Squamous cell carcinoma

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