A Step Forward in Throat Cancer Research

Possible Cure for HPV+ Throat Cancer

New research shows that HPV+ OPC patients can be cured, even after the disease has spread to other organs

Certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) can lead to persistent infections that may progress to cancer if left untreated. These cancers, including cancer of the oropharynx (base of the tongue and tonsils), can take years or even decades to develop after initial diagnosis. Such cancers are typically considered to be incurable and the goal of treatment is usually limited to symptom control.

Now, for the first time, researchers have found evidence to suggest that patients with cancer of the throat caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV+) have a better prognosis than those who are negative for the virus (HPV-).

Dr. Sophie Huang, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Toronto, has discovered that the oropharynx can actually be cured even after the disease has already spread to other critical organs in the body, such as the lungs.¹ She conducted what is now the largest study to date with over 900 patients to investigate survival predictors for metastatic HPV+ oropharyngeal cancer (OPC) and HPV- OPC patients, or patients who have tumors appearing in an organ not directly related to the primary cancer site.¹ In fact, patients with OPC and oligometastasis (involving five or fewer lesions in one distant organ) can live for more than 2 years after intensive treatment without further disease growth.¹

“Our research […] has shown that cure is a realistic goal in those patients with oligometastasis.”

Sophie Huang, MSc, Assistant Professor, Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Toronto

Three main factors allow for a survival advantage for HPV+ OPC patients:

  1. This type of cancer is more sensitive to radiotherapy and chemotherapy
  2. Patients were generally younger and diagnosed 10 years earlier than average
  3. Patients had fewer health problems, including those associated with smoking.

This is an important step forward in head and neck cancer research, a cancer type with historically low awareness despite being the sixth most common type of cancer worldwide.


¹ European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO). (2015, February 12). “New research shows possibility of cure for HPV positive throat cancer patients.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150212183507.htm