Key challenges have been identified for health professionals communicating the role of human papillomavirus (HPV) in oropharyngeal squamous cell cancer (OSCC), according to a study published in Head & Neck.

Rachael H. Dodd, from University College London, and colleagues interviewed 15 health professionals caring for OSCC patients. Clinicians’ experiences and the challenges of talking to patients about HPV were explored in a thematic analysis.

The researchers found that there were mixed views relating to explaining the causal role of HPV. Key messages to be communicated included normalizing HPV and emphasizing the positive prognosis associated with it.

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Managing couples in a consultation and patients’ concerns about transmission of HPV to partners were identified as challenging experiences. Some clinicians reported limitations to their knowledge about HPV and identified a need for more information and training.

“The demographic characteristics of patients with HPV-OSCC present new challenges for health professionals in terms of the questions being asked, the factors important to the patients, and their rehabilitation and treatment needs,” the authors write. “Experiences among health professionals differed, suggesting a need for clinical guidance for communication about HPV in this context to ensure that patients are receiving consistent messages.”


  1. Dodd, Rachael H., MSc, et al. “Discussing a diagnosis of human papillomavirus oropharyngeal cancer with patients: An exploratory qualitative study of health professionals.” Head & Neck. DOI: 10.1002/hed.23916. 2014.