MD Anderson researchers are proposing a new model to allow doctors to predict outcomes more accurately for patients with oropharyngeal (middle throat) cancers specifically caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
The current staging model fails to separate oropharyngeal cancer cases caused by the HPV virus from oropharyngeal cancer cases caused by smoking and alcohol. Thus, the researchers sought to develop a revised staging system that separates these two distinct groups and allows a more accurate approach to predicting outcomes and guiding treatment. Their proposal is detailed in a recent Journal of Clinical Oncology article.
In recent years, it’s been discovered that oropharyngeal cancer caused by HPV behaves differently than oropharyngeal cancer caused by smoking and alcohol, yet both cancers use the same tumor classification model. Therefore, regardless of whether the cancer was caused by HPV or smoking and alcohol, the treatment and perceived prognosis based on tumor staging has remained the same — even though patient outcomes vary considerably.
“Patients with HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer tend to present with more advanced disease, but also typically have better survival rates than those with HPV-unrelated oropharyngeal cancer,” said Erich Sturgis, M.D., professor of Head and Neck Surgery and an author of the study.
For example, a stage IV patient with HPV-releated cancer has an 80% survival rate, while a stage IV smoking-related cancer patient has a 50-60% survival rate, but both are presently considered advanced stage. A new tumor staging model will separate patients with promising prognoses from those with negative prognoses, and help doctors design the most appropriate treatment strategies for each group, Sturgis says.
Learn more about the new staging system on MD Anderson’s website.