Cancer of the Oropharynx and the Association with Human Papillomavirus

Hematol Oncol Clin North Am. 2021 Oct;35(5):913-931. doi: 10.1016/j.hoc.2021.05.004. Epub 2021 Jul 7.


Squamous cell carcinoma of the oropharynx (OPC) consists of human papillomavirus (HPV)-negative disease caused by tobacco and alcohol use, and HPV-positive disease caused by the sexually transmitted infection HPV. These entities have unique but overlapping risk factors, epidemiologic trends, staging systems, and survival outcomes. HPV-positive tumor status confers a significant survival benefit compared with HPV-negative disease. OPC treatment entails a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Ongoing trials will determine whether treatment of HPV-related disease may be safely deintensified to decrease morbidity. Emerging HPV-related biomarkers are under study as tools to inform screening, diagnosis, treatment, and surveillance for HPV-positive OPC.

Keywords: Deintensification; Head and neck cancer; Human papillomavirus; Oropharynx cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alphapapillomavirus*
  • Humans
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Papillomaviridae / genetics
  • Papillomavirus Infections* / complications
  • Papillomavirus Infections* / therapy
  • Prognosis