Human Papillomavirus (HPV) related oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (OPSCCs) are reported to have improved prognosis and survival in comparison to other head and neck squamous cell cancers (HNSCCs). This systematic review and meta-analysis examines survival differences in HPV-positive HNSCC and OPSCC subtypes including tonsillar carcinoma in studies not previously investigated. Four electronic databases were searched from their inception till April 2011. A random effects meta-analysis was used to pool study estimates evaluating disease-specific (death from HNSCC), overall (all-cause mortality), progression-free and disease-free (recurrence free) survival outcomes in HPV-positive vs. HPV-negative HNSCCs. All statistical tests were two-sided. Forty-two studies were included. Patients with HPV-positive HNSCC had a 54% better overall survival compared to HPV-negative patients HR 0.46 (95% CI 0.37-0.57); the pooled HR for tonsillar cancer and OPSCC was 0.50 (95% CI 0.33-0.77) and HR 0.47 (95% CI 0.35-0.62) respectively. The pooled HR for disease specific survival was 0.28 (95% CI 0.19-0.40); similar effect sizes were found irrespective of the adjustment for confounders, HPV detection methods or study location. Both progression-free survival and disease-free survival were significantly improved in HPV-positive HNSCCs. HPV-positive HNSCCs and OPSCCs patients have a significantly lower disease specific mortality and are less likely to experience progression or recurrence of their cancer than HPV-negative patients; findings which have connotations for treatment selection in these patients.
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