Short-Term Mortality Risks Among Patients With Oropharynx Cancer by Human Papillomavirus Status


There is substantial variation in head and neck cancer (HNC) mortality and competing mortality among patients with HNC. In this study, the authors characterize the causes and risks of short-term mortality among patients with oropharynx cancer (OPC) and how these risks differ by human papillomavirus (HPV) status.


A custom Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) data set with HPV status was used to identify 4930 patientswith OPC who were diagnosed with nonmetastatic (M0) disease from 2013 to 2014, including 3560 (72.2%) HPV-positive patients and 1370 HPV-negative patients. Causes of death and cumulative incidence estimates for HNC-specific mortality, competing mortality, second-cancer mortality, and noncancer mortality were analyzed by HPV status. Risk factors for mortality events were determined using multivariable competing risk regression models.


Compared with HPV-negative patients, HPV-positive patients had a lower risk of 2-year cumulative incidence of all-cause mortality (10.4% vs 33.3%; P < .0001) and a lower risk of both HNC-specific mortality (4.8% vs 16.2%; P < .0001) and competing-cause mortality (5.6% vs 16.8%; P < .0001). Second-cancer mortality was the most common cause of non-HNC mortality among HPV-negative patients. Both second-cancer mortality and noncancer mortality were significantly higher among patients who had HPV-negative OPC (10.8% and 6.1%, respectively) compared with those who had HPV-positive OPC (2.4% and 3.2%, respectively; both P < .0001). The median follow-up was 11 months (range 1-23 months) in this cohort with known HPV-status.


Patients with HPV-positive and HPV-negative OPC have significantly different rates of both HNC mortality and competing mortality. HPV-negative patients are at substantial risk of competing mortality, even within 2 years of cancer diagnosis. These differences can inform power calculations for clinical trials and patient management in the acute and survivorship settings.