Association of Human Papillomavirus Status with Suicide Risk among Patients with Head and Neck Cancer

Tatenda Chakoma, Peter K. Moon, Oyomoare L. Osazuwa-Peters, Uchechukwu C. Megwalu, Nosayaba Osazuwa-Peters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Importance: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is strongly associated with head and neck cancer, and HPV status is considered a prognostic factor. Being a sexually transmitted infection, HPV-related cancers may have greater risk of stigma and psychological distress; however, the potential association of HPV-positive status with psychosocial outcomes, such as suicide, is understudied in head and neck cancer. Objective: To investigate the association between HPV tumor status and suicide risk among patients with head and neck cancer. Design, Setting, and Participants: This population-based retrospective cohort study included adult patients with clinically confirmed cases of head and neck cancer based on HPV tumor status from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database from January 1, 2000, to December 31, 2018. Data analysis was conducted from February 1 to July 22, 2022. Main Outcomes and Measures: The outcome of interest was death by suicide. Primary measure was HPV status of tumor site, dichotomized as positive or negative. Covariates included age, race, ethnicity, marital status, cancer stage at presentation, treatment modality, and type of residence. Cumulative risk of suicide among patients with HPV-positive and HPV-negative head and neck cancer was assessed using Fine and Gray competing risk models. Results: Of 60361 participants, the mean (SD) age was 61.2 (13.65) years, and 17036 (28.2%) were women; there were 347 (0.6%) American Indian, 4369 (7.2%) Asian, 5226 (8.7%) Black, 414 (0.7%) Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and 49187 (81.5%) White individuals. A competing risk analysis showed a significant difference in the cumulative incidence of suicide between HPV-positive cancers (5-year suicide-specific mortality, 0.43%; 95% CI, 0.33%-0.55%) and HPV-negative cancers (5-year suicide-specific mortality, 0.24%; 95% CI, 0.19%-0.29%). Tumor status that was HPV positive was associated with increased suicide risk in the unadjusted model (hazard ratio [HR], 1.76; 95% CI, 1.28-2.40), but not the fully adjusted model (adjusted HR, 1.18; 95% CI, 0.79-1.79). Among people with oropharyngeal cancer only, HPV status was associated with increased suicide risk, but the width of the confidence interval prevented definitive conclusion (adjusted HR, 1.61; 95% CI 0.88-2.94). Conclusions and Relevance: The results of this cohort study suggest that patients with HPV-positive head and neck cancer have similar risk of suicide as patients with HPV-negative cancer, despite differences in overall prognosis. Early mental health interventions may be associated with reduced suicide risk in all patients with head and neck cancer and should be assessed in future work..

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-299
Number of pages9
JournalJAMA Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - 13 Apr 2023
Externally publishedYes


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