Determining Your Prognosis

Your prognosis is a prediction of the outcome of your disease. What is the risk of succumbing to the cancer or the risk of its coming back? These are the big questions on most people’s minds after receiving a diagnosis of throat cancer. Prognosis is based on many factors, and a survival rate is an estimate based on large populations of patients who have been given a similar stage of their throat cancer. There are many specific factors that are unique to each patient that may influence treatment success.

The following aspects of the cancer may affect your prognosis.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Status Unlike other head and neck cancers, squamous cell cancers of the oropharynx can be divided into HPV-related and HPV-unrelated cancers. Details are still being worked out, but it is becoming clear that with current treatment methods, patients with HPV-related oropharynx cancer have a better chance at being cured than those with HPV-unrelated oropharynx cancer.
Stage It is very important to know the stage to help determine your chance of cure. However, the staging system at this point does not separate HPV-positive from HPV-negative cancers.
Spread to Lymph Nodes Spread of Cancer Cells Outside Lymph Node Capsule This goes along with stage. However, even without other factors, if there is spread to lymph nodes in the neck, there’s a diminished chance of cure. This is particularly true if there is evidence of spread of cancer outside the lymph node. Still, for HPV-related oropharynx cancer, there is some data indicating that spread outside of lymph nodes is not as bad a sign as HPV-unrelated oropharynx cancer.
Tumour Margins The ability to completely remove the tumour can be a very important factor that will influence the likelihood of being cured.
Spread into Local Structures Spread into large nerves, vessels or lymphatics might make your prognosis worse.

A very interesting study that looked at survival in HPV-related oropharynx cancers versus non-HPV related oropharynx cancers revealed some interesting results. This study found that for Stage III and Stage IV oropharynx cancer, there was a difference in survival after three years based on the HPV status (82 percent in HPV positive cancers versus 57 percent in HPV negative cancers).