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J Clin Pathol 57:449-455 doi:10.1136/jcp.2003.008656
  • Review

HPV infections and tonsillar carcinoma

  1. S Syrjänen
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor S Syrjänen
 Department of Oral Pathology, Institute of Dentistry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Turku, Lemminkäisenkatu 2, FIN-20520 Turku, Finland; stina.syrjanenutu.fi
  • Accepted 29 January 2004

Abstract

Since human papillomavirus (HPV) was first linked to laryngeal/oral carcinomas in 1983, several studies have confirmed its causal role in a subgroup of upper aerodigestive tract tumours. Of the non-genital cancers, tonsillar carcinomas (TCs) have the strongest association with HPV. By the end of 2002, 432 TCs had been analysed for HPV DNA. Overall detection rate was 51%, with HPV-16 being the most prevalent (84%). The original proposal that HPV-33 would be the most frequent HPV in TCs has not been confirmed, being present in only 4.6% of cases. HPV copy numbers are similar to those found in genital carcinomas (10–300 copies/cell), although HPV is mainly episomal in TC. The importance of this observation is unclear, although a role for subepithelial proliferative lymphatic tissue has been speculated. Patients with HPV-16 positive tumours have better overall and disease specific survival than HPV negative patients. They are also younger and the association with conventional risk factors—smoking and drinking—is less significant than in HPV negative patients. Thus, recent data suggest a distinct pattern for HPV-16 positive TCs.

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