Human papillomavirus and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma in a UK population: Is there an association?

Indian J Cancer. 2021 Jan 27. doi: 10.4103/ijc.IJC_599_19. Online ahead of print.


Background: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an evolving important risk factor for head and neck cancer (HNC), especially for individuals who do not smoke and drink alcohol. The aim of this study was to establish the prevalence of HPV infection and elucidate its association with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) patients in UK population.

Methods: The presence and association of HPV was investigated in HNSCC patients in this retrospective clinical study. Samples were obtained from archived biopsies and resections. HPV screening was performed by the use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using the GP5+/GP6+ and the SPF1/2 consensus as primers and by immunohistochemistry (IHC). Samples of viral warts that were IHC positive for HPV and fibroepethelial polyps (FEP) were used, as positive and negative controls, respectively.

Results: The cohort included 124 patients with HNSCC with an age range of 27-97 years (median, 60 years) and a male to female ratio of 2:1. Among the 124 HNSCC, 43/124 (34.7%) were from the tongue, 74/124 (60%) presented with advanced stage III or IV disease, 112/124 (90%) had a conventional phenotype, 84/124 (68%) were moderately differentiated, and 89/124 (72%) had bands or cords at the invasive front. Of the 124 patients with HNSCC, 84/124 (68%) demonstrated the presence of HPV, 0/124 (0%) was for oral squamous cell carcinomas (OSCC). HPV16 was the associated virus type in all positive samples. However, no significant association was observed between HPV positivity and other clinico-pathological variables including age and gender of the patients, stage, and malignancy differentiation.

Conclusion: The results we provide suggest that HPV infection is low in HNSCC, in general, and absent in OSCC, specifically, in this UK population during this time period. This implies that HPV infection may not play an important role in HNSCC carcinogenesis compared to other risk factors in UK population. This information can aid in more effective treatment approaches for treating UK cases of HNSCC.

Keywords: Carcinogenesis; United Kingdom.; head and neck neoplasms; mouth neoplasms; papillomaviridae; risk factors; squamous cell carcinoma of head and neck.