Background: Beta-human papillomavirus (betaPV) may play a role in the development of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). However betaPV is highly prevalent, and it may only be people with a higher viral load who have increased risk of SCCs. We therefore examined the association between betaPV load and SCCs.
Methods: We recruited 448 immunocompetent cases with SCCs and 464 controls from Italy and Australia and 497 immunosuppressed organ transplant recipients (OTR; 179 cases and 318 controls) from Europe. We used reverse hybridization to genotype 25 betaPV types in eyebrow hair follicles and determined the viral load for eight selected types using quantitative PCR. We used logistic regression to assess associations between type-specific and cumulative viral load and SCCs.
Results: Australian and OTR participants in the highest cumulative load tertile were at significantly higher risk of SCCs than those in the lowest tertile. Those with more than four betaPV types in the high load tertile were at approximately three-fold increased risk of SCCs. In Australia, HPV23 and 36 loads were significantly associated with SCCs, with borderline associations for HPV5 and 38. In OTR, HPV8 and 38 loads were significantly associated and HPV20 and 36 were borderline. We found little evidence for an association between load and SCCs in Italy.
Conclusions: High viral load may be associated with risk of cutaneous SCCs, with total load seemingly more important than the load of any specific type.
Impact: Our findings lend weight to the hypothesis that HPV plays a role in skin carcinogenesis.