Head and neck cancer is frequent worldwide and oropharyngeal locations are presently sharply on the increase, in relation with an increasing incidence of oropharyngeal infection by oncogenic type-16 human papillomavirus (HPV). The clinical and biologic profile of these patients is distinct from that of other oropharyngeal carcinoma patients, with earlier onset, cystic cervical nodes and basaloid carcinoma histopathology. Detection of intratumoral viral DNA is essential to confirm the role of HPV, and E6/E7 mRNA expression is the most relevant indicator for stratification. Several methods can reveal intratumoral oncogenic HPV DNA, but PCR with hybridization is the most sensitive and most widely used. According to several reports, prognosis in terms of survival and locoregional control is better in HPV-positive oropharyngeal carcinoma than in oropharyngeal carcinoma associated with smoking and alcohol consumption. The future lies in vaccination, but further studies will determine whether the rate of oropharyngeal carcinoma falls in women vaccinated against cervical cancer.
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