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The role of human papillomavirus in head and neck cancer

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Lajer CB, von Buchwald C. The role of human papillomavirus in head and neck cancer. APMIS 2010; 118: 510–519.

Over the last 20 years, there has been increasing awareness of a subset of squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck (HNSCC), i.e. HPV-positive HNSCC. These cancers seem to differ somewhat from HPV-negative HNSCC. Patients with HPV-positive HNSCC tend to be younger and have a lower intake of tobacco and alcohol. Distinct molecular profiles separate them from HPV-negative cancers and show similarities with HPV-positive cervical SCC. There is evidence that HPV-positive HNSCC is a sexually transmitted disease. Patients with HPV-positive HNSCC are often diagnosed at a late stage with large cystic lymph nodes in the neck. HPV-positive HNSCC show an affinity for the oropharynx, especially the tonsils and the base of the tongue, and tend to show low differentiation histopathologically. There is a better prognosis regardless of the treatment regimen for HPV-positive HNSCC compared with HPV-negative HNSCC, and this seems to be related to the immune system. Whether the new vaccines for HPV will protect not only against cervical cancer but also against HPV-positive HNSCC remains unknown.

Keywords: Human papillomavirus; head and neck cancer; immune system; prognosis; tonsil

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2010


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