Human papillomavirus as a risk factor for the increase in incidence of tonsillar cancer

Int J Cancer. 2006 Dec 1;119(11):2620-3. doi: 10.1002/ijc.22177.


Smoking and alcohol are well-known etiological factors in tonsillar cancer. However, as in cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV) is currently found in a sizable proportion of tonsillar cancer. Recent reports from the U.S. and Finland show an increase in the incidence of tonsillar cancer, without a parallel rise in smoking and alcohol consumption. This study investigates whether the incidence of tonsillar cancer has also changed in Sweden and whether a possible explanation of the increase is a higher proportion of HPV-positive tonsillar cancer. The incidence of tonsillar cancer between 1970 and 2002 in the Stockholm area was obtained from the Swedish Cancer Registry. In parallel, 203 pretreatment paraffin-embedded tonsillar cancer biopsies taken during 1970-2002 from patients in the Stockholm area were tested for presence of HPV DNA by PCR. The incidence of tonsillar cancer increased 2.8-fold (2.6 in men and 3.5 in women) from 1970 to 2002. During the same period, a significant increase in the proportion of HPV-positive tonsillar cancer cases was observed, as it increased 2.9-fold (p < 0.001). The distribution of HPV-positive cases was 7/30 (23.3%) in the 1970s, 12/42 (29%) in the 1980s, 48/84 (57%) in the 1990s and 32/47 (68%) during 2000-2002. We have demonstrated a highly significant and parallel increase both in the incidence of tonsillar cancer and the proportion of HPV-positive tumors. Hence, HPV may play an important role for the increased incidence of tonsillar cancer. This should definitely influence future preventive strategies as well as treatment for this type of cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Papillomaviridae / isolation & purification*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Tonsillar Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Tonsillar Neoplasms / virology*