Detection of HPV-associated oropharyngeal tumours in a 16-year cohort: more than meets the eye

L. J. Melchers*, M. F. Mastik, B. Samaniego Cameron, B. A. C. van Dijk, G. H. de Bock, B. F. A. M. van der Laan, B. van der Vegt, E. J. M. Speel, J. L. N. Roodenburg, M. J. H. Witjes, E. Schuuring

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background: Accurate assessment of the prevalence of the human papilloma virus (HPV) in oropharyngeal tumours (OpSCC) is important because HPV-positive OpSCC are consistently associated with an improved overall survival. Recently, an algorithm has become available that reliably detects clinically relevant HPV in tumour tissue, however, no complete cohorts have been tested. The aim was to determine the prevalence of active high-risk HPV infection in a complete cohort of OpSCC collected over a 16-year period.

Methods: Using a triple algorithm of p16 immunohistochemistry, HPV-BRISH and HPV-PCR, we assessed the prevalence of active HPV infection in all OpSCC diagnosed in our hospital from 1997 to 2012 (n = 193) and a random selection of 200 oral tumours (OSCC).

Results: Forty-seven OpSCC (24%) were HPVGP PCR-positive; 42 cases were HPV16+, 1 HPV18+, 3 HPV33+ and 1 HPV35+. Brightfield in situ hybridisation did not identify additional HPV-positive cases. Human papilloma virus-associated tumour proportion increased from 13% (1997-2004) to 30% (2005-2012). Human papilloma virus-positivity was an independent predictor for longer disease-specific survival (HR = 0.22; 95% CI: 0.10-0.47). Only one OSCC was HPV+.

Conclusions: In our cohort, the incidence of HPV-associated OpSCC is low but increasing rapidly. The strict detection algorithm, analysis of disease-specific survival and the complete cohort, including palliatively treated patients, may influence the reported prevalence and prognostic value of HPV in OpSCC.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1349-1357
Number of pages9
JournalBritish Jounal of Cancer
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 14-Apr-2015


  • head neck cancer
  • oropharyngeal cancer
  • tonsillar
  • base-of-tongue
  • human papilloma virus
  • prevalence
  • incidence
  • HEAD
  • DNA
  • RISK

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