Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis

Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis

National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.


It is possible that the main title of the report Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis is not the name you expected. Please check the synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and disorder subdivision(s) covered by this report.


  • Respiratory Papillomatosis
  • Juvenile Laryngeal Papilloma
  • Laryngeal Papilloma

Disorder Subdivisions

  • Juvenile Respiratory Papillomatosis
  • Adult-Onset Respiratory Papillomatosis

General Discussion

Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis is a rare viral disease characterized by multiple benign growths (papillomas) in the middle and lower respiratory tract. Symptoms usually begin with hoarseness and/or a change in voice. The growths may be surgically removed, but frequently recur and may require additional surgery. Affected individuals may experience long periods without recurrence (remission), and/or the disease may disappear completely. Children under five years of age are most commonly affected, although adults represent about one-third of all documented cases. People with Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis may have difficulty breathing (dyspnea) and/or experience other life-threatening complications if the papillomas block the airway.


There are two types of Respiratory Papillomatosis, with similar symptoms but distinguished by the age of onset. Juvenile Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosismay begin at birth or during childhood, usually before five years of age. Adult Onset Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosisbegins after the age of 18.

The initial symptoms of both types of Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosismay include hoarseness and/or a change in voice. Affected individuals may have the sensation of a foreign object in their throat, and/or have difficulty breathing (dyspnea) and/or swallowing (dysphagia). Upon medical examination (laryngoscopy) multiple stem-like growths (papillomas) can be seen in the respiratory tract, most often on the vocal cords. Papillomas may also develop in the nose, oral cavity, windpipe (trachea), air passages to the lungs (bronchi and/or bronchioles), and/or lungs.

Recurrence of papillomas is a characteristic feature of Respiratory Papillomatosis, and multiple surgical procedures may be required to keep the respiratory tract clear. Respiratory distress and/or other life-threatening situations may arise if the papillomas block the airway and/or interfere with lung function.

Rarely, the papillomas may become malignant (cancerous) and invade surrounding areas, causing tissue damage and/or leading to serious life-threatening complications. Affected individuals who have received previous radiation treatment may have an increased risk of malignant transformation.


Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosisis caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV-6 or HPV-11). This virus is responsible for some types of warts or growths in the genital region (genital condyloma). Juvenile Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis may be transmitted to newborns during childbirth or before birth by a mother who is infected with the papillomavirus.

The mode of transmission of Adult Onset Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis has not been determined. It has been suggested by scientists that some affected adults may have been infected at birth, with the virus remaining inactive (latent) until adulthood. Slow viruses may stay dormant in humans for extended periods of time, then for reasons yet unknown may unexplainably become reactivated. The role of heredity which may make a person susceptible to slow viruses is not well understood. Other adults may acquire the virus when they come in contact with people infected with the human papillomavirus (i.e., oral contact with infected genitals).

In some cases of Respiratory Papillomatosis, the disease may spread due to the breaking off of tissue particles during surgical procedures. When the affected individual breathes in, these particles may be carried through the airway into other areas of the respiratory system and lead to the development of papillomas. One case reported in the medical literature was that of a physician who became infected when he inhaled airborne virus particles while performing laser surgery on an infected individual.

One study suggests that individuals with a certain enzyme deficiency (lysozyme) and a low intake of proteins and vitamin B complex may be more susceptible to the virus. More research is needed to determine whether this theory is valid.

Affected Populations

Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosisis a rare disorder that affects males and females in equal numbers, and is most frequently diagnosed in children under five years of age. About one-third of affected individuals are adults. Firstborn children, delivered vaginally, and/or who have teenage mothers, may be more frequently affected than other infants. One study suggests that Adult Onset Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis may occur more frequently in adults who have multiple lifetime sexual partners and/or have a higher frequency of oral sex.

Standard Therapies


Diagnosis of Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosisis is made when medical examination of the larynx (laryngoscopy) reveals typical stem-like growths (papillomas). The diagnosis is confirmed through laboratory examination of tissue samples, which shows the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV 6 and/or HPV 11).


Surgical removal of papillomas may be easily accomplished. However, papillomas may recur requiring additional surgery. In severe cases multiple surgical procedures (i.e., every two weeks) may be necessary. Many individuals with both Juvenile and Adult Onset Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis may experience long periods without recurrence (regression) of the symptoms. In a significant number of individuals with Juvenile Laryngeal Papillomatosis there may be complete recovery. Some cases of Juvenile Laryngeal Papillomatosis may clear up without treatment (spontaneous remission).

The preferred treatment of Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis consists of surgical removal of the papillomas, combined with laser therapy. Destruction of the growths with a laser beam (laser ablation) or by freezing (cryotherapy) may be considered as alternative treatments. Care must be taken to avoid damage to the surrounding healthy tissue, as scarring can cause permanent changes in voice and respiratory function.

Earlier treatments for Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis included radiation therapy. This treatment has been discontinued because research suggests that radiation therapy may result in an increased risk of malignant (cancerous) transformation.

Investigational Therapies

Research into possible treatments for Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosisis ongoing. Drugs that inhibit the development of abnormal growths (antineoplastic) are being tested in the treatment of recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis, usually in combination with surgical therapy (excision or laser). These drugs include recombinant interferon alfa-2b and interferon alpha-n1, which have received orphan drug designations for the treatment of Laryngeal Papillomatosis, and interferon alfa-n3. Further research is necessary to determine the long-term safety and effectiveness of these medications in the treatment of Respiratory Papillomatosis. For further information on these drugs contact the manufacturers:

For information on Interferon Alfa-2b (Recombinant), contact:

Schering Corporation

2000 Galloping Hill Road

Kenilworth, NJ 07033

For information on Interferon Alfa-n1, contact:

Burroughs Wellcome Co.

3030 Cornwallis Road

Research Triangle Park, NC 27709

For information on Interferon Alda-n3, contact:

The Purdue Frederick Company

100 Connecticut Avenue

Norwalk, CT 06850-3590

Photodynamic laser therapy is being tested on some people with Respiratory Papillomatosis. Further research is necessary to determine the long-term safety and effectiveness of photodynamic therapy in the treatment of Respiratory Papillomatosis.

Drugs that are used to treat viral disorder (antiviral agents) are being studied as potential treatments for Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis. One specific antiviral agent is ribavirin, which is being tested in the treatment of children and adults with Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis. Further research is necessary to determine the long-term safety and effectiveness of antiviral agents such as ribavirin in the treatment of Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis.

The drug cidofovir, alone or in combination with interferon alpha-2b, has been used to treat children with severe respiratory papillomatosis. More research is necessary to determine the safety and effectiveness of cidofovir for the treatment of individuals with Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis.

Cimetidine has been used to treat individuals with Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis. More research is necessary to determine the long-term safety and effectiveness of this potential treatment for individuals with Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis.

Researchers are studying the use of a mechanical device known as a microdebrider as an alternative treatment to carbon dioxide laser for the treatment of individuals with Juvenile Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis. Initial results demonstrated that the microdebrider was less time-consuming than the carbon dioxide laser and that there were no soft tissues complications.

Information on current clinical trials is posted on the Internet at All studies receiving U.S. government funding, and some supported by private industry, are posted on this government web site.

For information about clinical trials being conducted at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:

Tollfree: (800) 411-1222

TTY: (866) 411-1010


For information about clinical trials sponsored by private sources, contact:



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Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis Foundation

P.O. Box 6643

Lawrenceville, NJ 08648

Tel: (609)530-1443

Fax: (609)530-1912

Email: or


NIH/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

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Bethesda, MD 20892-0105

Tel: (301)592-8573

Fax: (301)251-1223



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Genetic and Rare Diseases (GARD) Information Center

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Tel: (301)251-4925

Fax: (301)251-4911

Tel: (888)205-2311

TDD: (888)205-3223


British Paediatric Orphan Lung Disease



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