The epidemiology of the human papillomavirus related to oropharyngeal head and neck cancer

Laryngoscope. 2016 Apr;126(4):894-900. doi: 10.1002/lary.25767. Epub 2016 Feb 4.


Objective: To summarize the epidemiology of human papillomavirus (HPV)-related oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (OSCC).

Data sources: Articles in the English language referenced in MEDLINE/PubMed from the year 2000 onward.

Review methods: Relevant articles pertaining to the epidemiology of HPV-related OSCC were selected for review, with a particular preference for articles from 2008 onward.

Results: The incidence of HPV-related OSCC continues to increase in North America and Western Europe, with up to 70% of new oropharyngeal cancer cases being attributed to HPV, whereas data from the developing world remain lacking. There is evidence to support distinct risk factors for HPV-related OSCC as compared with HPV-unrelated OSCC. The long-term natural history of HPV infections remains unknown. HPV-related OSCC are associated with an improved prognosis both at the time of primary diagnosis and disease progression. There is preliminary evidence to show that HPV vaccination initiatives are effective in preventing HPV cervical infections, although data related to oral HPV infections are lacking.

Conclusion: The epidemiology of HPV-related OSCC is evolving. Further efforts are needed to characterize the natural history of oral HPV infection and its relationship with the eventual development of HPV-associated OSCC to develop effective tools for secondary prevention.

Level of evidence: NA.

Keywords: Oropharynx; epidemiology; head and neck cancer; human papillomavirus; squamous cell carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disease Progression
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / virology*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / virology*
  • Papillomaviridae*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / virology*
  • Prognosis