Elucidation of the role of human papillomavirus (HPV) in the etiology and prognosis of squamous carcinomas of the head and neck (HNSCC) is essential to optimize prevention and treatment strategies for this disease. We analyzed 385 HNSCC tissue blocks identified through a population-based cancer registry in Metropolitan Detroit for HPV DNA using a broad-spectrum PCR technique (SPF10-LiPA25) to correlate with patient and tumor characteristics and overall survival. Overall, HPV DNA (any type) was detected in 29.4% of all HNSCC, but it was significantly more prevalent (50.6%) in oropharyngeal sites (N=81), where 90% of HPV were type 16, than in other sites. HPV prevalence (any type) in oropharyngeal sites was highest in patients with a negative smoking indicator, Caucasians and in regional tumor stage. Likewise, only in oropharyngeal sites did patients overall positive to HPV show significantly better survival compared with HPV-negative patients, notably among those who had been irradiated. The best and the worst survival from cancer in oropharyngeal sites were found, respectively, among HPV-positive patients with negative smoking indicator and among HPV-negative patients with positive smoking indicator. The results of this study revealed that the presence of HPV DNA was associated with patients' specific characteristics and better overall survival exclusively in oropharyngeal sites. To define the fraction of HNSCC preventable by HPV vaccination or amenable to less aggressive treatment, however, tobacco exposure and HPV markers other than DNA presence need to be taken into account.
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