Antivirals for recurrent respiratory papillomatosis

Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP) is a condition in which wart-like growths occur in the upper airway of children or adults. This can cause difficulty in breathing or a change in voice. This condition is usually treated by repeated surgery to remove these 'warts', but it has been proposed that additionally using antiviral medications may help this condition. This review found one good quality study of cidofovir (an antiviral agent) injected into the warts at the time of surgical removal. After one year of treatment, however, this study found no benefit of the injected cidofovir when compared to injected salt water solution (placebo). There is still a need for a larger randomised study which includes more patients, and higher doses of cidofovir.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is insufficient evidence to support the efficacy of antiviral agents as adjuvant therapy in the management of recurrent respiratory papillomatosis in children or adults. The included randomised controlled trial showed no advantage of intralesional cidofovir over placebo at 12 months. The study was limited by a small sample size and a change in the cidofovir concentration midway through the trial, from 0.3 mg/ml in children and 0.75 mg/ml in adults, to 5 mg/ml in both adults and children. An adequately powered randomised controlled trial of intra-lesional cidofovir, consistently using higher concentrations of cidofovir in comparison with injected placebo, would be required to determine effectiveness convincingly. Future studies must include health-related quality of life and symptom-based outcome measures.

Read the full abstract...

This is an update of a Cochrane Review originally published in Issue 4, 2005 of The Cochrane Library and previously updated in 2010.

Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis is a condition characterised by benign papillomatous (wart-like) growths in the upper airway. It can affect both adults and children causing airway obstruction and voice change. Treatment usually involves repeated surgical debulking of the papillomata. Several agents have been proposed as adjuvants to surgical debulking, including antivirals, administered systemically or injected into the lesions.


To assess the effectiveness of antiviral agents as adjuvant therapy in the management of recurrent respiratory papillomatosis in children and adults.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders Group Trials Register; the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); PubMed; EMBASE; CINAHL; Web of Science; BIOSIS Previews; Cambridge Scientific Abstracts; ICTRP and additional sources for published and unpublished trials. The date of the most recent search was 24 February 2012.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials.

Data collection and analysis: 

We identified 143 references from the searches. Forty-three were appropriate for retrieval and assessed for eligibility by the authors. One randomised controlled trial met the inclusion criteria, involving 19 participants. We contacted the authors to obtain additional data to facilitate the review.

Main results: 

The included study was a single-institution, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of intralesional cidofovir administered at the time of surgical debulking. Adults (n = 15) and children (n = 4) were included. We judged the study to have a reasonably low risk of bias. After a 12-month trial period, no difference was found between the cidofovir and placebo groups. Both groups showed a significant reduction in disease extent (as assessed at the time of surgery using the Derkay Scoring System), but no significant change in health-related quality of life.