Human papillomavirus in oropharyngeal cancer: The changing face of a disease

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2016 Dec;1866(2):141-150. doi: 10.1016/j.bbcan.2016.07.005. Epub 2016 Jul 31.


The last decade has brought about an unexpected rise in oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) primarily in white males from the ages of 40-55years, with limited exposure to alcohol and tobacco. This subset of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) has been found to be associated with human papillomavirus infection (HPV). Other Head and Neck Squamous Cell carcinoma (HNSCC) subtypes include oral cavity, hypopharyngeal, nasopharyngeal, and laryngeal SCC which tend to be HPV negative. HPV associated oropharyngeal cancer has proven to differ from alcohol and tobacco associated oropharyngeal carcinoma in regards to the molecular pathophysiology, presentation, epidemiology, prognosis, and improved response to chemoradiation therapy. Given the improved survival of patients with HPV associated SCC, efforts to de-intensify treatment to decrease treatment related morbidity are at the forefront of clinical research. This review will focus on the important differences between HPV and tobacco related oropharyngeal cancer. We will review the molecular pathogenesis of HPV related oropharyngeal cancer with an emphasis on new paradigms for screening and treating this disease.

Keywords: Check point inhibitors; Chemo-radiation therapy; HPV vaccines; Human papillomavirus; Immune therapy; Oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / therapy
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / virology
  • Papillomaviridae / pathogenicity
  • Papillomavirus Infections / complications*
  • Papillomavirus Vaccines / therapeutic use
  • Virus Internalization


  • Papillomavirus Vaccines