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JAMA Oncol. 2017 Mar 1;3(3):358-365. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.4581.

A Comparison of Prognostic Ability of Staging Systems for Human Papillomavirus-Related Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

Author information

Department of Therapeutic Radiology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, Connecticut.
Division of Otolaryngology, Department of Surgery, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
medical student at Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
Department of Medical Oncology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.



The current American Joint Committee on Cancer/Union for International Cancer Control (AJCC/UICC) staging system, developed for human papillomavirus (HPV)-unrelated disease, discriminates poorly when applied to HPV-related oropharyngeal squamous cell cancer (OPSCC), leading to calls for a new staging system.


To compare the prognostic ability of the AJCC/UICC seventh edition staging system; a recently proposed system, the International Collaboration on Oropharyngeal Cancer Network for Staging (ICON-S); and a novel objectively derived system for HPV-related OPSCC using a national database of patients primarily treated with either radiation or surgery.

Design, Setting, and Participants:

In this observational study, patients with HPV-related nonmetastatic OPSCC were identified in the National Cancer Database between 2010 and 2012. Recursive partitioning analysis (RPA) was used to derive the proposed-RPA staging system. The data were analyzed from March to May 2016.

Main Outcomes and Measures:

Overall survival was calculated using the Kaplan-Meier method. The performance of the 3 systems was compared using published criteria, and internal validation using bootstrap methods was performed. Survival differences between stage groups were evaluated using the log-rank test.


A total of 5626 patients (86.0% male; median [range] age, 58 [21-90] years) were identified. The median (range) follow-up was 28.5 (0.1-58.8) months. A novel staging system (proposed-RPA) consisting of stage IA, T1-2N0-2a; stage IB, T1-2N2b-3; stage II, T3N0-3; stage III, T4a-bN0-3 resulted in 3-year overall survival rates of 91%, 87%, 81%, and 70%, respectively. This system, as well as the ICON-S, significantly prognosticated for survival when either primary surgery or primary radiation subgroups were examined (log-rank P < .001 for all). The AJCC/UICC system, ICON-S, and proposed-RPA all significantly predicted survival outcomes when analyzed globally (log-rank P < .001 for all). The AJCC/UICC system could not differentiate between survival when stages I and IVA were compared, however (log-rank P = .17). On comparative performance evaluation for survival prediction, the proposed-RPA provided superior prognostication compared with the other systems.

Conclusions and Relevance:

We validated the ICON-S staging as prognostic, overall, and in primary radiation therapy and surgery subgroups, but ultimately found that a staging system consisting of stage IA, T1-2N0-2a; stage IB, T1-2N2b-3; stage II, T3N0-3; and stage III, T4a-bN0-3 (with stage IV representing M1 disease) outperformed the others. The proposed-RPA is an alternative staging system that should be evaluated for potential adoption as part of the next AJCC/UICC staging system.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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