Objective: This study examines the prognostic significance of human papillomavirus (HPV) in patients with locally advanced oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) treated primarily with surgery or definitive radiotherapy.
Methods: One hundred and ninety-eight patients with Stage 3/4 SCC were followed up for recurrence in any form or death from any cause for between 1 and 235 months after diagnosis. HPV status was determined using HPV E6-targeted multiplex real-time PCR/p16 immunohistochemistry. Determinants of recurrence and mortality hazards were modelled using Cox's regression with censoring at follow-up dates.
Results: Forty-two per cent of cancers were HPV-positive (87% type 16). HPV predicted loco-regional control, event-free survival and overall survival in multivariable analysis. Within the surgery with adjuvant radiotherapy (n=110), definitive radiotherapy-alone (n=24) and definitive radiotherapy with chemotherapy (n=47) groups, patients with HPV-positive cancers were one-third or less as likely to have loco-regional recurrence, an event or to die of any cause as those with HPV-negative cancers after adjusting for age, gender, tumour grade, AJCC stage and primary site. The 14 patients treated with surgery alone were considered too few for multivariable analysis.
Conclusion: HPV status predicts better outcome in oropharyngeal cancer treated with surgery plus adjuvant radiotherapy as well as with definitive radiation therapy±chemotherapy.