Human leukocyte antigens and cancer: is it in our genes?

J Pathol. 1999 Jul;188(3):231-6. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-9896(199907)188:3<231::AID-PATH325>3.0.CO;2-A.


Human leukocyte antigens (HLAs) are widely expressed cell surface molecules which present antigenic peptides to T-lymphocytes, thus modulating the immune response. The efficiency of peptide presentation by HLAs is dependent on the extreme polymorphism in the HLA-encoding loci within the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). HLA polymorphism is known to alter disease susceptibility and progression in a range of predominantly inflammatory conditions, many of which are T-lymphocyte-mediated. More recently, the importance of alterations in HLA expression and polymorphisms within HLA-encoding loci has emerged in the development of malignancy. This review concentrates on the role of HLA polymorphism in malignant disease, with discussion of the major cancers in which HLA associations have become clear, as well as the potential mechanisms by which HLA polymorphisms may act as important factors, or cofactors, in the pathogenesis of malignant disease. In addition, the role of certain non-HLA genes within the MHC in the pathogenesis of malignancy is also considered briefly.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • HLA Antigens / genetics*
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Skin Neoplasms / genetics


  • HLA Antigens