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Neck surgery not needed for many throat cancer patients

22 September 2014

Neck surgery not needed for many throat cancer patients

A new study shows that patients with human papillomavirus (HPV)-positive oropharyngeal cancer see significantly higher rates of complete response on a post-radiation neck dissection than those with HPV-negative oropharyngeal cancer.

Lead author of the study Thomas Galloway, who is the Director of Clinical Research at Fox Chase Cancer Center, said: “For patients that achieve a complete response, neck surgery is probably unnecessary.”

After radiation and chemotherapy to remove tumours from the tonsils or back of the tongue, many head and neck cancer patients still have persistent lumps in their neck. The question, Dr Galloway says, is whether to remove the lumps or let them dissolve on their own.

The researchers found that people who tested positive for HPV were less likely to have recurrence of their cancers, regardless of whether or not the tumours had completely disappeared following treatment. Patients’ HPV study was the strongest predictor of whether or not they were alive at the end of the study.

Among the patient who underwent neck surgery, any lingering bumps were more likely to be benign is patients were infected with HIV. “The bump might have become a permanent scar, or in some cases, it would have eventually disappeared,” says Dr Galloway. 

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