Dr. K. Kian Ang of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston says those whose tumors test positive for human papillomavirus virus have better survival rates than those whose tumors test negative for HPV.
"This is the strongest prognostic factor we have ever identified for head and neck cancer patients," Ang, the lead author, said in statement. "Knowing that the tumor is associated with human papillomavirus is telling the patient that the prognosis is excellent with currently available treatments."
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, finds the human papillomavirus test is stronger than other prognostic factors -- including the size of the tumor or presence of tumor in lymph nodes. The three-year overall survival rate for patients with tumors testing positive for the virus tumors is 82.4 percent -- versus 57.1 percent in those whose tumors test negative for the virus.
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.