Human papillomavirus-related oropharyngeal cancer

Ann Oncol. 2017 Oct 1;28(10):2386-2398. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdx304.


High-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) is now recognised as the principal cause of the increasing incidence rates of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) in some parts of the world. The primary risk factor for developing HPV-related OPSCC is oral HPV-infection and the majority of oral HPV-infections are acquired by oral sex. Progression into an OPSCC includes persistent infection with evasion of immune response in the microenvironment, the activation of viral early genes (E6, E7) in basal epithelial cells, the deregulation of cell cycle and the accumulation of chromosomal instability. Patients affected by HPV-related OPSCC tend to be younger and have better outcomes. This observation has lead current research to evaluate treatment de-escalation options to reduce long-term associated morbidity. Moreover, a different molecular profile for HPV-related OPSCC has been described, opening new options for targeted therapy and immunotherapy approaches. This paper comprehensively reviews our accumulated knowledge regarding the role of HPV in OPSCC spanning from infection to cancer development, including its clinical diagnosis, management and preventive strategies.

Keywords: HPV diagnosis; head and neck cancer; human papillomavirus; oropharyngeal cancer; oropharynx cancer de-escalation treatments; prevention strategies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / virology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / virology*
  • Humans
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / virology*
  • Papillomaviridae / genetics
  • Papillomaviridae / pathogenicity
  • Papillomaviridae / physiology*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / complications*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / virology
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck