Treatment De-intensification for HPV-associated Oropharyngeal Cancer: A Definitive Surgery Paradigm

Semin Radiat Oncol. 2021 Oct;31(4):332-338. doi: 10.1016/j.semradonc.2021.07.001.


Human papillomavirus-associated oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (HPV+OPSCC) constitutes the majority of head and neck diagnoses within the United States. Patients with HPV+OPSCC have biologically and demographically distinct disease, leading to high cure rates after standard treatments. This long survivorship period coupled with the toxicity of standard treatments makes de-intensification strategies an urgent research question. Surgery has generally been avoided for HPV+OPSCC as historical surgical techniques were invasive and morbid. With the advent of minimally invasive transoral techniques, definitive surgical options are becoming more popular. Minimally invasive surgery offers unique opportunities in a de-intensification paradigm, including more detailed patient selection, radiation volume reduction, and radiation dose de-intensification. Nevertheless, careful patient selection must be exercised as surgical defects may lead to quality of life decrements beyond what is gained through de-intensification. Ongoing phase III efforts will help clarify the patient cohorts best suited for surgically oriented de-intensification.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Head and Neck Neoplasms*
  • Humans
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Papillomaviridae
  • Papillomavirus Infections* / complications
  • Quality of Life
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck