Detection of human papillomavirus (HPV) in clinical samples: evolving methods and strategies for the accurate determination of HPV status of head and neck carcinomas

Oral Oncol. 2014 Sep;50(9):771-9. doi: 10.1016/j.oraloncology.2014.05.004. Epub 2014 Jun 2.


Much recent attention has highlighted a subset of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs) related to human papillomavirus (HPV) that has an epidemiologic, demographic, molecular and clinical profile which is distinct from non-HPV-related HNSCC. The clinical significance of detecting HPV in a HNSCC has resulted in a growing expectation for HPV testing of HNSCCs. Although the growing demand for routine testing is understandable and appropriate, it has impelled an undisciplined approach that has been largely unsystematic. The current state of the art has now arrived at a point where a better understanding of HPV-related tumorigenesis and a growing experience with HPV testing can now move wide scale, indiscriminant and non-standardized testing towards a more directed, clinically relevant and standardized approach. This review will address the current state of HPV detection; and will focus on why HPV testing is important, when HPV testing is appropriate, and how to test for the presence of HPV in various clinical samples. As no single test has been universally accepted as a best method, this review will consider the strengths and weaknesses of some of the more commonly used assays, and will emphasize some emerging techniques that may improve the efficiency of HPV testing of clinical samples including cytologic specimens.

Keywords: Cervista® HPV HR test; Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma; Hybrid Capture 2 (HC2) HPV DNA Test; In situ hybridization; Oropharyngeal carcinoma; cobas® HPV test; p16 immunohistochemistry.

MeSH terms

  • Alphapapillomavirus / genetics
  • Alphapapillomavirus / isolation & purification*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / virology*
  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / virology*
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • RNA, Viral / analysis
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • DNA, Viral
  • RNA, Viral