, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 59-66
Date: 14 Dec 2012

Human Papilloma Virus in Head and Neck Cancers—Role and Relevance in Clinical Management

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Abstract

The biology and clinical behavior of Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinomas (HNSCCs) is very distinct within different subgroups due to the distinct molecular profiles for the HPV positive versus HPV negative tumors. HPV status is the most important independent prognostic variable in multivariate analysis taking into account all other prognostic factors like tumour stage, smoking status, age and performance status. The debate today is whether the intense therapy is too aggressive in this group of patients since they show a superior survival regardless of treatment strategies. A highly divergent prognosis and distinct biology of HPV positive and HPV negative HNSCCs underlines the fact that treating them as distinct diseases is the need of the hour. Infection with HPV is associated with less aggressive disease, better loco regional control and lower rates of second primary cancers. An important caveat that remains is the emergence of intermediate prognosis of HPV positive smokers and HPV negative non smokers. Though molecular biology has provided important data on the interaction of the HPV onco proteins with genes important in cell cycle control, also speculated to be involved in pathogenesis of HNSCC, more basic research is needed to describe the differential mechanisms of tumorigenesis among the HNSCCs that show presence and absence of HPV. This is clinically relevant to reduce morbidity without compromising tumour control in HPV positive patients and improving tumour control and co-morbid illness that could be pre-existing or treatment related in HPV negative patients. There may be a need for treatment intensification and incorporation of newer agents into induction chemotherapy protocols for the HPV negative patients and so HPV detection is important to aid in this selection. HPV tumour status is therefore more important than just providing the prognostic information in these classes of tumours. This article discusses the role and clinical relevance of HPV in HNSCCs.