Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a recently identified causative agent for a subset of head and neck cancers, primarily in the oropharynx, and is largely responsible for the rising worldwide incidence of oropharyngeal cancer (OPC). Patients with HPV-positive OPC have distinct risk factor profiles and generally have a better prognosis than patients with traditional, HPV-negative, head and neck cancer. Concurrent chemotherapy and radiation is a widely accepted primary treatment modality for many patients with HPV-positive OPC. However, recent advances in surgical modalities, including transoral laser and robotic surgery, have led to the reemergence of primary surgical treatment for HPV-positive patients. Clinical trials are under way to determine optimal treatment strategies for the growing subset of patients with HPV-positive OPC. Similarly, identifying those patients with HPV-positive cancer who are at risk for recurrence and poor survival is critical in order to tailor individual treatment regimens and avoid potential undertreatment.


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