Human papillomavirus and oropharynx cancer: Biology, detection and clinical implications

Clint T. Allen, James S. Lewis, Samir K. El-Mofty, Bruce H. Haughey, Brian Nussenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

133 Scopus citations


Objectives: To review evidence for the role of human papillomavirus (HPV) in the etiology of oropharyngeal cancers, methods of viral detection, and the resulting clinical implications. Study Design: Contemporary review. Methods: Published journal articles identified through PubMed and conference proceedings were reviewed. Results: HPV-associated squamous cell carcinomas represent a distinct disease entity from carcinogen-associated squamous cell carcinomas. HPV oncoproteins lead to mucosal cell transformation through well-defined mechanisms. Different methods of detecting HPV exist with variable levels of sensitivity and specificity for biologically active virus. Although virus is detected in a number of head and neck subsites, studies demonstrate improved outcomes in HPV-associated carcinoma of the oropharynx only. The cell cycle regulatory protein p16 is upregulated by biologically active HPV and serves as a biomarker of improved response to therapy. Conclusions: HPV-associated squamous cell carcinoma of the oropharynx is a biologically distinct entity from carcinogen-associated carcinoma. Understanding the molecular mechanisms behind the improved outcomes in patients with HPV-associated oropharyngeal carcinoma may lead to novel therapeutics for patients with carcinogen-associated carcinomas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1756-1772
Number of pages17
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Biology
  • Cancer
  • Detection
  • Human papillomavirus
  • Oropharynx
  • Survival

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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