The Role of Human Papillomavirus in Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2018 Jun;142(6):715-718. doi: 10.5858/arpa.2018-0083-RA.


Context: - Human papillomavirus (HPV) is implicated in the development of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (OPC), particularly those cancers developing in tonsillar tissue.

Objectives: - To review the prevalence, subtypes, and methods of detecting HPV in OPC and to review the epidemiology, histology, staging, management, and prevention of these cancers.

Data sources: - The study comprised a review of the literature.

Conclusions: - The incidence of HPV-OPC is rising globally and in the United States, but rates of HPV-positivity vary with the anatomic site(s) and the population studied, as well as the method of detecting HPV infection. These tumors are more common in men. In contrast to HPV- OPC, the rates of smoking and alcohol abuse are lower. The HPV 16 subtype is predominant, and immunohistochemistry staining for p16 and in situ hybridization are the most widely used methods clinically to detect transcriptionally active HPV. Moreover, HPV-OPC has a unique tumor phenotype with predominantly nonkeratinizing morphology and a variety of patterns. These cancers often present with cystic lymph node metastases. The prognosis for HPV-OPC is significantly better than HPV- OPC and has led to differences in grading, staging, and management. Although there are similarities to cervical cancer, there are challenges in preventing such cancers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Human papillomavirus 16 / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Incidence
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Male
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / virology*
  • Papillomaviridae / isolation & purification*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Papillomavirus Infections / pathology
  • Papillomavirus Infections / prevention & control
  • Papillomavirus Infections / virology*
  • Prognosis
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / diagnosis
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / pathology
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / prevention & control
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / virology*