Purpose: Human papillomavirus (HPV) has previously been reported to be associated with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck. Our objective was to investigate the presence and type of HPV infection in head and neck tumors and determine whether infection was associated with individual tumor characteristics, patients' pattern of tobacco and alcohol exposure, or with clinical outcome.
Experimental design: Using a case series design, fresh tumor samples were obtained from a series of 89 head and neck squamous cell carcinoma patients, including 64 men and 25 women. The majority of tumors were located in the oral cavity, followed by the oropharynx. A PCR-based technique with restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis was used to detect and type HPV.
Results: Of the 89 patients, 18 (20%) had detectable HPV 16 in their tumor samples. HPV 16 was detected in 64% of tonsil tumors, 52% oropharyngeal tumors, and 5% oral cavity tumors. The mean age of subjects with HPV 16-positive tumors was younger than the patients with HPV-negative tumors. Also, this group consumed less alcohol on a weekly basis and had a better clinical outcome compared with the HPV-negative group. Smoking, clinical stage, tumor grade, and tumor-node-metastasis status were not associated with HPV 16 presence.
Conclusions: Our study supports the previous reports that suggest HPV 16 is associated with squamous cell cancers located in the oropharynx and oral cavity. The fact that HPV-positive tumors were observed in younger, lighter alcohol-consuming individuals with a better overall and disease-specific survival suggests a distinct disease process in these patients.