Human papillomavirus (HPV)-related oropharyngeal nonkeratinizing squamous cell carcinoma: characterization of a distinct phenotype

Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod. 2006 Mar;101(3):339-45. doi: 10.1016/j.tripleo.2005.08.001.


We have recently shown that HPV-positive tonsillar carcinoma in young patients exhibits nonkeratinizing basaloid morphology and a characteristic immunophenotype. The purpose of this study was to review a large number of cases of oropharyngeal carcinomas, in all age groups, and to identify tumors with nonkeratinizing morphology. Using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) the prevalence and type of HPV DNA was determined in representative cases and in a control group of conventional keratinizing squamous cell carcinomas. The tumors were further characterized with a panel of immunohistochemical stains. A total of 235 carcinomas were reviewed; 141 of the tonsils and 94 in the base of tongue. Ninety (36%) of the tonsillar and 30 (32%) of the base of tongue carcinomas were nonkeratinizing (NKCa) with basal cell features; the rest were classical keratinizing squamous cell carcinomas (KSCC). HPV DNA, particularly type 16, was identified in 10 (100%) of 10 of NKCA and in only 2 (20%) of 10 of KSCC (P = .0014). NKCas were strongly reactive to p16 antibodies while KSCC showed weak and focal reactivity. Higher Ki67 and lower p53 staining scores were observed in NKCa as compared to KSCC. It is concluded that NKCa of the tonsils and base of tongue is a distinct subtype of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck with high prevalence of HPV DNA and a characteristic immunophenotype.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / chemistry
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / virology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • Female
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Keratins / analysis
  • Ki-67 Antigen / analysis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / virology*
  • Palatine Tonsil / pathology
  • Papillomaviridae / genetics
  • Papillomavirus Infections / pathology*
  • Phenotype
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Tongue Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Tongue Neoplasms / pathology
  • Tongue Neoplasms / virology*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / analysis


  • DNA, Viral
  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Keratins