Patients with throat cancers caused by HPV — the human papillomavirus — have better chances at surviving their illnesses than patients whose cancers don't have a viral culprit.
The size and stage of a tumor in the throat, the researchers found, is a good indication of how well a patient will do. But even more important is whether the tumor tests positive for HPV.
The findings come for a federally funded study of hundreds of cancer patients. About two-thirds had tumors were HPV-postive. The patients with those kinds of cancers had better chances of surviving three years — more than 82 percent — than those with an HPV-negative cancer — about 57 percent.
The results appear in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Patients who developed HPV-positive head and neck cancers tended to be younger, white and non-smokers. Tobacco use increased the risk of death.
More than 28,000 Americans a year are diagnosed with head and neck cancers. Smoking and heavy drinking are the most important factors in the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But HPV, the most common sexually transmitted virus in the U.S., may account for one-quarter of mouth cancers and more than one-third of throat cancers according to some recent studies, the CDC says.