Proposed Staging System for Patients With HPV-Related Oropharyngeal Cancer Based on Nasopharyngeal Cancer N Categories

J Clin Oncol. 2016 Jun 1;34(16):1848-54. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2015.64.6448. Epub 2016 Feb 16.


Purpose: Patients with human papillomavirus (HPV)-related oropharyngeal cancer (OPC) generally present with more advanced disease but have better survival than patients with HPV-unrelated OPC. The current American Joint Commission on Cancer (AJCC)/Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) TNM staging system for OPC was developed for HPV-unrelated OPC. A new staging system is needed to adequately predict outcomes of patients with HPV-related OPC.

Patients and methods: Patients with newly diagnosed HPV-positive OPC (by p16 immunohistochemistry or in situ hybridization) treated at our institution from January 2003 through December 2012 were included. By using recursive partitioning analysis (RPA), we developed new stage groupings with both traditional OPC regional lymph node (N) categories and nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) N categories. Survival was estimated by the Kaplan-Meier method, and the relationship between stage and survival was examined by using Cox proportional hazards regression analysis.

Results: A total of 661 patients with HPV-positive OPC met the inclusion criteria. With the traditional TNM staging system, there was no difference in survival between stages (P = .141). RPA with NPC N categories resulted in more balanced stage groups and better separation between groups for 5-year survival than RPA with traditional OPC N categories. With the stage groupings that were based in part on NPC N categories, the risk of death increased with increasing stage (P for trend < .001), and patients with stage III disease had five times the risk of death versus patients with stage IA disease.

Conclusion: New stage groupings that are based on primary tumor (T) categories and NPC N categories better separate patients with HPV-positive OPC with respect to survival than does the current AJCC/UICC TNM staging system. Although confirmation of our findings in other patient populations is needed, we propose consideration of NPC N categories as an alternative to the traditional OPC N categories in the new AJCC/UICC TNM staging system that is currently being developed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / mortality
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / virology
  • Papillomaviridae / isolation & purification*
  • Retrospective Studies