Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are increasingly recognised as important human carcinogens. The best established association with human malignancy is that of high-risk mucosal HPV types and anogenital cancer. HPV-induced transformation of anogenital epithelia has been the subject of intense research which has identified the cellular tumour suppressor gene products, p53 and pRB, as important targets for the viral oncoproteins E6 and E7 respectively. Certain HPV types are also strongly associated with the development of non-melanoma skin cancer in the inherited disorder epidermodysplasia verruciformis (EV). However, in contrast with anogenital malignancy the oncogenic mechanisms of EV-HPV types remain uncertain, and there appears to be a crucial additional requirement for ultraviolet radiation. Cutaneous HPV types in the general population are predominantly associated with benign viral warts, but a role in non-melanoma skin cancer has recently been postulated. Polymerase chain reaction based HPV detection techniques have shown a high prevalence of HPV DNA, particularly in skin cancers from immunosuppressed patients and to a lesser extent in malignancies from otherwise immunocompetent individuals. No particular HPV type has yet emerged as predominant, and the role of HPV in cutaneous malignancy is unclear at present. It remains to be established whether HPV plays an active or purely a passenger role in the evolution of non-melanoma skin cancer.
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