Barriers to Obtaining a Timely Diagnosis in Human Papillomavirus–Associated Oropharynx Cancer

Emily E. Karp, Linda X. Yin, Eric J. Moore, Anna J. Elias, Thomas J. O’Byrne, Amy E. Glasgow, Elizabeth B. Habermann, Daniel L. Price, Jan L. Kasperbauer, Kathryn M. Van Abel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Failure to recognize symptoms of human papillomavirus–associated oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (HPV(+)OPSCC) at presentation can delay diagnosis and treatment. This study aims to identify patient factors and provider patterns that contribute to delayed diagnosis. Study Design: Retrospective case series. Setting: Tertiary care center. Methods: Patients with HPV(+)OPSCC receiving intent-to-cure treatment from 2006 to 2016. Clinical data, workup, and care timelines were abstracted. Univariate and multivariable linear regressions were performed to determine associations. Results: Of 703 included patients, 627 (89%) were male, and mean (SD) age at diagnosis was 59 (9) years. The mean (SD) delay to diagnosis was 148.8 (243.51) days, with an average delay of 63 (154.91) days from symptom onset to first presentation and 82.8 (194.25) days from first presentation to diagnosis. Most patients visited at least 2 providers (n = 546, 78%) before diagnosis and saw their primary care physician at first presentation (n = 496, 71%). The most common imaging and biopsy obtained before diagnosis was neck computed tomography (n = 391, 56%) and neck fine-needle aspiration (n = 423, 60%), respectively. On multivariable linear regression, being a homemaker, being a current smoker, seeing 3 or more providers, and getting a magnetic resonance imaging scan were associated with significant delays in diagnosis (P <.01, all). Treatment with antibiotics and a suspicion for HPV(+)OPSCC at first presentation were associated with decreased delays in diagnosis (P <.01, both). Conclusions: Patient delays in seeking medical attention and provider delays in recognizing the appropriate diagnosis both contribute to delays of care in HPV(+)OPSCC. Improved patient and provider education is necessary to expedite the diagnosis of HPV(+)OPSCC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)300-308
Number of pages9
JournalOtolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery (United States)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • barriers to care
  • delayed diagnosis
  • oropharynx cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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