HPV improves survival for African-Americans with throat cancer

Even though the human papillomavirus (HPV) is a risk factor for certain head and neck cancers, its presence could make all the difference in terms of survival, especially for African Americans with throat cancer, according to a newly published study from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

The study shows that African Americans who are HPV-positive have better outcomes than African Americans without HPV.

African Americans who are HPV-negative also fared worse than Caucasians both with and without HPV present in oropharyngeal cancer, a cancer that affects part of the throat, the base of the tongue, the tonsils, the (back of the mouth), and the walls of the pharynx (throat).

The study is published online in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

"This study adds to the mounting evidence of HPV as a racially-linked sexual behavior lifestyle risk factor impacting survival outcomes for both African American and with oropharyngeal cancer," says lead author Maria J. Worsham, Ph.D., director of research in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Henry Ford.

The American Cancer Society estimates about 36,000 people in the U.S. will get oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers in 2013; an estimated 6,850 people will die of these cancers. These cancers are more than twice as common in men as in women. They are about equally common in blacks and in whites.

To compare in HPV-positive and HPV-negative African Americans with oropharyngeal cancer, Dr. Worsham and her team conducted a retrospective study of 118 patients.

Among the study group, 67 are HPV-negative and 51 are HPV-positive. Forty-two percent of those in the study are African American.

The study found that:

  • African Americans are less likely to be HPV positive
  • Those older than 50 are less likely to be HPV positive
  • Those with late-stage oropharyngeal cancer are more likely to be unmarried and more likely to be HPV positive
  • HPV negative patients had 2.7 times the risk of death as HPV positive patients
  • The HPV race groups differed with significantly poorer survival for HPV negative African Americans versus HPV positive African Americans, HPV positive Caucasians and HPV negative Caucasians
Overall, the study finds HPV has a substantial impact on overall survival in African Americans with oropharyngeal cancer

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