Adult-Onset Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis: A Review of Disease Pathogenesis and Implications for Patient Counseling

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A new diagnosis of adult-onset recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (AO-RRP) prompts many questions related to disease acquisition, course, and transmission. Recent attention to the human papillomavirus (HPV), along with emerging data on AO-RRP, provides a foundation for patient counseling.


To provide a framework for these discussions, including an overview of the current literature on HPV-mediated disease across organs.


The peer-reviewed literature was culled to provide a comprehensive review encompassing AO-RRP and anogenital papilloma, as well as general HPV virology and pathophysiology. PubMed and Google Scholar databases were searched from 1975 to July 2014.


Most HPV infections in healthy adults are cleared within 2 years without clinical significance. Adult-onset RRP is a rare manifestation of HPV and may be homologous to anogenital HPV, which is highly transmissible between sexual partners. Horizontal transmission of AO-RRP has not been characterized. Our laboratory, however, recently found that nearly 100% of patients with AO-RRP had concurrent oral cavity HPV infection. Historically, an increased number of oral sex partners was thought to be associated with AO-RRP, but recent data from our group did not corroborate this finding. Recent data also question the dogma that smoking and laryngopharyngeal reflux play a role in recidivistic disease. Management of AO-RRP is often symptom based and includes lesion excision or ablation with adjuvant therapies including cidofovir for refractory cases.


Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis may be related to a new or latent HPV infection, potentially obtained at birth, and the mechanism(s) underlying the progression from HPV infection to RRP remains unknown. Recommendations with regard to sexual practices in patients with AO-RRP cannot be made at this time. Unlike human immunodeficiency virus, patients with AO-RRP are not obligated to discuss infection status with partners. Despite the nebulous nature of the disease, clinicians should be a resource to discuss the current state of the literature with both the patient and partner.

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