Human papillomaviruses and cancer

Radiother Oncol. 2013 Sep;108(3):397-402. doi: 10.1016/j.radonc.2013.06.004. Epub 2013 Jul 3.


Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are small oncogenic DNA viruses of which more than 200 types have been identified to date. A small subset of these is etiologically linked to the development of anogenital malignancies such as cervical cancer. In addition, recent studies established a causative relationship between these high-risk HPV types and tonsillar and oropharyngeal cancer. Clinical management of cervical cancer and head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs) is largely standardized and involves surgical removal of the tumor tissue as well as adjuvant chemoradiation therapy. Notably, the response to therapeutic intervention of HPV-positive HNSCCs has been found to be better as compared to HPV-negative tumors. Although the existing HPV vaccine is solely licensed for the prevention of cervical cancer, it might also have prophylactic potential for the development of high-risk HPV-associated HNSCCs. Another group of viruses, which belongs to the beta-HPV subgroup, has been implicated in nonmelanoma skin cancer, however, the etiology remains to be established. Treatment of HPV-induced nonmelanoma skin cancer is based on local excision. However, topically applied immune-modulating substances represent non-surgical alternatives for the management of smaller cutaneous tumors. In this review we present the current knowledge of the role of HPV in cancer development and discuss clinical management options as well as targets for the development of future intervention therapies.

Keywords: Alpha-HPV; Beta-HPV; E6; HPV vaccine; Nonmelanoma; Oropharyngeal; Papillomaviruses; Tonsillar.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / etiology
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / etiology
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / virology
  • Papillomavirus Infections / complications*
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms