For doctors, Brawley said, the study "will change how we practice. Everybody will now want to look at their head and neck cancers and analyze them for HPV."
He noted that the study implies that the apparent black-white difference in outcomes is really a difference in who is infected with HPV.
"It's a landmark paper for two reasons," said Dr. Martin Blaser of New York University Langhorne Medical Center, an expert in the links between infectious agents and cancer.
First, he said, it clarifies the links between the disease and racial differences in outcomes. But the research also has implications for understanding the biology of cancer and the links with infectious agents, he added.
"This study is important because it helps explain both cancer causation," he said, "and also differences in incidence and outcome."