Oropharyngeal HPV Detection Techniques in HPV-associated Head and Neck Cancer Patients

Anticancer Res. 2020 Apr;40(4):2117-2123. doi: 10.21873/anticanres.14170.


Background/aim: The incidence of human papilloma virus (HPV)-related head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) has been increasing in the last decades. Analysis of oral brushing or rinsing samples for screening or stratification could potentially improve screening and prevention.

Patients and methods: Oral brushes and mouthwashes were taken from 20 patients with HPV-associated HNSCC before definite therapy. HPV genotyping was performed for the detection of 14 high-risk HPV subtypes and correlated to DNA isolated from tumor tissue.

Results: Ten of 20 patients were tested HPV positive by using either method. There was a significant correlation between macroscopic visibility of tumor and positive HPV detection (p<0.001) and HPV detection and tumor size (p<0.001). HPV was detected in all macroscopically visible tumors. Half of the HPV cases who had macroscopically invisible tumors were missed by both methods.

Conclusion: Both techniques are limited in the detection of macroscopically non-visible and small tumors. Therefore, the application of these techniques for screening or diagnosis of HNSCC is not recommended.

Keywords: HNSCC; HPV; HPV testing; Head and neck cancer; Human papillomavirus; OPSCC; oral rinse; oropharyngeal brushing; oropharyngeal carcinoma; oropharyngeal infection; sexually transmitted disease.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • DNA, Viral / isolation & purification
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Human papillomavirus 16 / isolation & purification
  • Human papillomavirus 16 / pathogenicity
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouthwashes / analysis
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / virology
  • Papillomaviridae / genetics*
  • Papillomaviridae / isolation & purification
  • Papillomaviridae / pathogenicity
  • Papillomavirus Infections / genetics*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / pathology
  • Papillomavirus Infections / virology
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / genetics*
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / pathology
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / virology


  • DNA, Viral
  • Mouthwashes