Cutaneous Human Papillomaviruses and the Risk of Keratinocyte Carcinomas

Cancer Res. 2021 Sep 1;81(17):4628-4638. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-21-0805. Epub 2021 Jul 15.


Cutaneous human papillomavirus (cuHPV) infections may be novel targets for skin cancer prevention and treatment, but critical information regarding the development of virus-positive skin cancers following cuHPV infection has been lacking. In this study, baseline cuHPV infection was measured by serology and viral DNA detection in eyebrow hairs (EBH) and forearm skin swabs (SSW) among 1,008 individuals undergoing routine skin cancer screening exams and followed for incidence of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cuSCC). Baseline β-HPV detection, particularly in SSW, significantly predicted cuSCC (HR = 4.32; 95% confidence interval, 1.00-18.66), whereas serologic evidence of past β-HPV infection was not associated with cuSCC. Less than 5% of baseline β-HPV types detected in SSW were present in subsequent cuSCC tumors, and cuHPV detected in SSW with higher mean fluorescence intensity values were more likely to be present in cuSCC compared with those with lower levels (P < 0.001). β-HPV-positive cuSCC occurred more often in areas of highly sun-damaged skin than did β-HPV-negative cuSCC. Overall, no clear patterns were observed between baseline β-HPV detection and subsequent development of BCC, or between baseline γ-HPV detection and either cuSCC or BCC. Collectively, these results demonstrate that β-HPV detection in SSW is a significant predictor of cuSCC risk, although evidence suggests only a small subset of cuSCC is etiologically linked to β-HPV infection. SIGNIFICANCE: β-HPV positivity may be a useful biomarker for identifying individuals who could benefit from increased screening or novel cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma prevention strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alphapapillomavirus*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / virology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / virology
  • DNA, Viral
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hair / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Keratinocytes / cytology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms, Basal Cell / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms, Basal Cell / metabolism
  • Neoplasms, Basal Cell / virology
  • Papillomavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Papillomavirus Infections / metabolism
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Skin Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Skin Neoplasms / virology
  • Specimen Handling
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • DNA, Viral