Treatment de-escalation for HPV+ oropharyngeal cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Head Neck. 2022 May;44(5):1255-1266. doi: 10.1002/hed.27019. Epub 2022 Mar 3.


Human Papillomavirus (HPV) related oropharyngeal carcinoma (OPC) carries a better prognosis compared with HPV-counterparts, thereby pushing the adoption of de-intensification treatment approaches as new strategies to preserve superior oncologic outcomes while minimizing toxicity. We evaluated the effect of treatment de-intensification in terms of overall survival (OS), progression-free survival (PFS), locoregional and distant control (LRC and DM) by selecting prospective or retrospective studies, providing outcome data with reduced intensification versus standard curative treatment in HPV+ OPC patients, with a systematic analysis till September 2020. The primary outcome of interest was OS. Secondary endpoints were PFS, LRC, and DM expressed as HR. A total of 55 studies (from 1393 screened references) were employed for quantitative synthesis for 38 929 patients. Among n = 48 studies with data available, de-intensified treatments reduced OS in HPV+ OPCs (HR = 1.33, 95% CI 1.17-1.52; p < 0.01). In de-escalated treatments, PFS was also decreased (HR = 2.11, 95% CI 1.65-2.69; p < 0.01). Compared with standard treatments, reduced intensity approaches were associated with reduced locoregional and distant disease control (HR = 2.51, 95% CI 1.75-3.59; p < 0.01; and HR = 1.9, 95% CI 1.25-2.9; p < 0.01). Chemoradiation improved survival in a definitive curative setting compared with radiotherapy alone (HR = 1.42, 95% CI 1.16-1.75; p < 0.01). When adjuvant treatments were compared, standard and de-escalation strategies provided similar OS. In conclusion, in patients with HPV+ OPC, de-escalation treatments should not be widely and agnostically adopted in clinical practice, as therein lies a concrete risk of offering a sub-optimal treatment to patients.

Keywords: HPV; de-intensification; meta-analysis; oropharyngeal carcinoma; treatment.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Alphapapillomavirus*
  • Humans
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Papillomaviridae
  • Papillomavirus Infections* / complications
  • Papillomavirus Infections* / therapy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies