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Detection of HPV in oral leukoplakia by brushing and biopsy: prospective study in an Italian cohort

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The aim of the present study was to evaluate the prevalence of HPV infection in oral leukoplakia, specifying the HPV genotypes eventually involved. We also compared the micro-biopsy and brushing HPV detecting efficacy.

Materials and methods

Consecutive patients with a presumptive diagnosis of oral leukoplakia were enrolled. Demographical, behavioral data (smoking, alcohol) and lesion features were recorded. Each patient underwent a brushing procedure, performed with a cytobrush rubbed on the lesion, and then a biopsy was performed. The brushing and micro-biopsy specimens were both analyzed with the HPV 28 Anyplex II Seegene RT-PCR. The prevalence of HPV infection was calculated considering the two methods’ outcomes separately and then combining both. Cohen’s k coefficient was used to assess the agreement between the two methods.


Sixty-five patients were enrolled with a mean age of 60 years. The HPV infection prevalence was 17%, decreasing to 5% considering the brushing outcomes alone. The most frequently detected genotypes were 6 (12%), 11 (3%), 42 (3%), and 16 (3%). No statistically significant correlation was found between HPV infection and the variables analyzed, except for smoking and the type of mucosa (p < 0.05). The strength of agreement between cytobrush and micro-biopsy was “fair” (k = 0.384).


The present study showed a low prevalence of HPV infection in oral leukoplakia. The micro-biopsy appeared to be more reliable than brushing in detecting HPV DNA in oral leukoplakia, but the method invasiveness discourages its employ as a screening tool. The importance of HPV in the etiopathogenesis of oral potentially malignant lesions remains unclear; further studies are needed to establish the HPV role in oral leukoplakia.

Clinical relevance

HPV involvement in oral leukoplakia and an effective and appropriate detecting technique are still a debated issue. From this study, the restricted use of brushing did not appear sufficient to assess the presence of HPV infection with PCR techniques in samples obtained from oral leukoplakia.

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Correspondence to Fedora Della Vella or Massimo Petruzzi.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Della Vella, F., Pannone, G., Patano, A. et al. Detection of HPV in oral leukoplakia by brushing and biopsy: prospective study in an Italian cohort. Clin Oral Invest 24, 1845–1851 (2020).

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