Abstract Background Early detection of treatment failure may improve clinical outcome and overall survival in patients with head and neck cancer after first-line treatment. Circulating cell-free HPV16 DNA (cfHPV16 DNA) was evaluated as a possible complementary marker to radiological assessment of early response in patients with HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer (OPC) after radiotherapy alone or combined with chemotherapy. Methods The study included 66 patients with HPV-related OPC receiving radical radiotherapy alone or in combination with chemotherapy. cfHPV16 DNA was assessed in the blood of all patients before treatment using TaqMan-based qPCR. Subsequent analysis of cfHPV16 DNA was performed 12 weeks after treatment completion, along with radiological assessment of early treatment results. Results Complete (CRR) and incomplete radiological response (IRR) was found in 43 (65%) and 23 (35%) patients respectively. cfHPV16 DNA was present in 5 (28%) patients with IRR, while only in 1 (4%) with CRR. Three of five patients with IRR that were positive for cfHPV16 DNA exhibited histopathologically confirmed local or regional treatment failure, and other two developed distant metastases. None of the patients with negative cfHPV16 DNA presented disease failure. Conclusion The post-treatment assessment of cfHPV16 DNA in patients with HPV-related OPC may be used as a complementary biomarker to conventional imaging-based examinations for early identification of treatment failure.