Infectious Agents Associated with Head and Neck Carcinomas

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2016:897:63-80. doi: 10.1007/5584_2015_5005.


In addition to traditional risk factors such as smoking habits and alcohol consumption, certain microbes also play an important role in the generation of head and neck carcinomas. Infection with high-risk human papillomavirus types is strongly associated with the development of oropharyngeal carcinoma, and Epstein-Barr virus appears to be indispensable for the development of non-keratinizing squamous cell carcinoma of the nasopharynx. Other viruses including torque teno virus and hepatitis C virus may act as co-carcinogens, increasing the risk of malignant transformation. A shift in the composition of the oral microbiome was associated with the development of oral squamous cell carcinoma, although the causal or casual role of oral bacteria remains to be clarified. Conversion of ethanol to acetaldehyde, a mutagenic compound, by members of the oral microflora as well as by fungi including Candida albicans and others is a potential mechanism that may increase oral cancer risk. In addition, distinct Candida spp. also produce NBMA (N-nitrosobenzylmethylamine), a potent carcinogen. Inflammatory processes elicited by microbes may also facilitate tumorigenesis in the head and neck region.

Keywords: Candida albicans; Co-carcinogen; Hepatitis C virus; Human papillomavirus; Mutagenic compound; Nasopharyngeal carcinoma; Oral microbiome; Oropharyngeal carcinoma Epstein-Barr virus; Torque teno virus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Candida albicans*
  • Candidiasis, Oral*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / microbiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / virology
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections*
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human*
  • Humans
  • Mouth Neoplasms* / microbiology
  • Mouth Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Mouth Neoplasms* / virology
  • Papillomaviridae*
  • Papillomavirus Infections*