HPV Testing in Head and Neck Cancers

Last Modified: February 17, 2008

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

My husband is a 54 year-old non-smoker, non-drinker with stage I moderately differentiated squamous cell cancer of the tonsil. He is about to begin radiation therapy. Should he request HPV testing in the tonsil biopsy, and would this change his treatment at all?

Answer

Pinaki R. Dutta, MD, PhD, Resident in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

Presence of HPV is increasingly being recognized as a risk factor for the development of oropharyngeal cancers. The tonsils are great lymphoid organs and “pick up” just about everything. Given that your husband is a non-smoker and non-drinker and is young, it is most likely that he has HPV. Testing for HPV would be of academic interest, but would not make a difference in management or treatment decisions.