Head and neck surgical, radiation, and medical oncologists in the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of early stage and advanced Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) related throat cancer. Our multi-specialty team offers services required for the treatment of this complex disease. If you have questions or want to make an appointment, call (713) 798-5900.

What You Need to Know

Throat cancer has traditionally been associated with tobacco and alcohol consumption. Over the last several decades, throat cancer has become increasingly associated with HPV, which can also cause cervical, anal, and penile cancers. HPV-related cancers are unique, and the prognosis for most patients with first time tumors is excellent, however, achieving a cure still requires intensive treatment, best delivered in the setting of a comprehensive cancer center with a robust multidisciplinary treatment team.

Prevention and Risk Factors

Not all cases of HPV-related throat cancer can be prevented, but you can help reduce your risk by avoiding certain risk factors. These include maintaining a healthy diet, limiting consumption of alcohol and tobacco, and avoiding HPV infection.

Symptoms

HPV-related throat cancers can present with a variety of symptoms:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • Neck masses that do not go away in one to two weeks
  • Chronic cough
  • Difficulties swallowing
  • Painful swallowing
  • Sensation of a foreign body in the throat which lasts more than several hours or days

Neck masses that do not go away after one to two weeks should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist – head and neck surgeon.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to achieving a cure. Although no screening is currently available for HPV-related throat cancer, the introduction of the HPV vaccine will have a long-term impact on development of new cancers and is encouraged in both young girls and boys for that reason.

Diagnosis of HPV-related throat cancer requires imaging with contrast enhanced computed tomography (CT) and/or positron emission tomography (PET) scans. It also requires a tissue diagnosis to confirm the presence and type of cancer cells. This is generally performed with a needle biopsy of or a direct biopsy in the clinic or operating room. For most patients, treatment will involve a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Advances in technology and science have significantly improved the effectiveness of existing treatments and decreased their short-term and long-term side effects. Patients also have access to National Cancer Institute-sponsored clinical trials.