Less Intense Treatment Strategy Cures Many Patients with HPV-related Cancer
Almost 80 million people have been infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), which is now the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Most people are able to clear the HPV virus without being treated, but those who can’t are at increased risk for developing cancer in the tonsils and base of the tongue. Aggressive treatments developed for tobacco-related head and neck cancers over-treat most patients with HPV-related cancer. A new, less intense strategy is curing many of these patients while preserving their ability to swallow, speak and eat.
Medical oncologist Alexander Pearson, MD, PhD, co-director of the head and neck cancer program at the University of Chicago Medicine, discusses HPV-linked head and neck cancer and new treatments for the disease.
We started with clinical research — the OPTIMA study was designed to determine if we could successfully decrease the intensity of treatment based on how well a patient’s cancer responded to chemotherapy. In other words, if a tumor shrinks more with chemotherapy, it’s less likely to resist radiation — meaning we could cure patients using 35% to 40% less radiation focused on a smaller area. It’s called “de-escalation,” and the results were very exciting. We had excellent survival rates: 95 percent of the patients were still alive after two years. And patients treated with less radiation were less likely to need feeding tubes.
Medical oncologist Alexander T. Pearson, MD, PhD, and nurse navigator Patricia Heinlen, BSN, RN, discuss head and neck cancer, including the HPV vaccine and how new treatment approaches are tailored to each patient's cancer type, making treatments more effective while reducing side effects.Watch Video Watch Video With Transcript
Less Invasive Treatment Effective for HPV-Linked Head and Neck Cancer
Former Notre Dame and Philadelphia Eagles football player Arunas Vasys participated in a clinical trial after being diagnosed with tongue cancer. The reduced-intensity treatment — designed by UChicago Medicine physicians — is offering higher cure rates and a better quality of life to patients with HPV-linked head and neck cancer.View Vasys' Story