Human papillomavirus status in head and neck cancer

The ethics of disclosure

Authors

  • Andrew G. Shuman MD,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan
    2. Adult Ethics Committee, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan
    • 1904 Taubman Center, 1500 E Medical Center Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48109
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    • Fax: (734) 647-9691

  • Gregory T. Wolf MD

    1. Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan
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Abstract

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an emerging causative factor for squamous carcinoma of the oropharynx and perhaps other head and neck cancers. There is a great deal of uncertainty regarding the clinical significance and implications of HPV status in this patient population. As a result, there is no established protocol for informing patients of the potential link between viral infection and their cancer. This paper discusses some of the ethical issues involved with informing head and neck cancer patients of their HPV status, recognizing the dilemma posed by unresolved clinical questions and the need to respect the autonomy of patients by disclosing relevant information. Cancer 2010; 116:4221–6. © 2010 American Cancer Society.

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