• oropharyngeal carcinoma;
  • chromosome instability;
  • prognosis


Tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma (TSCC) is frequently associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) and chromosome instability. Data from cellular model systems are, however, controversial concerning a relation between HPV and chromosome instability development. Here we studied this association in 77 primary TSCC with known clinical outcome and cell cycle protein expression profiles. Thirty-two tumors (42%) showed HPV16-integration. All 77 cases were analyzed by fluorescence in situ hybridization using chromosome 1- and 7-specific centromere DNA probes to detect chromosome instability, indicated by the presence of chromosome imbalances and/or polyploidization for these chromosomes. In addition, eight HPV-positive dysplasias, seven of which were adjacent to a carcinoma, were analyzed. Disomy for chromosome 1 and 7 was present in 29 out of 77 TSCC (38%), of which 19 were HPV16-positive (p = 0.002). Aneusomy was observed in the remaining 48 TSCC, of which 13 were HPV-positive. Aneusomies correlated significantly with tobacco- and alcohol consumption (p = 0.001 and p = 0.016, respectively) and a higher T-stage (p = 0.018). Both HPV-positivity and chromosome disomy were significantly associated with a favorable disease-free survival (p = 0.001 and p = 0.025, respectively). Particularly in the HPV16-positive group chromosome instability is a very strong indicator for an unfavorable prognosis (p = 0.032). In the dysplasias an identical HPV and chromosome copy number status was identified as in the adjacent tumors. We conclude that HPV-positive TSCC and their precursor lesions are more often genetically stable than HPV-negative lesions and that these tumors are associated with a favorable prognosis. Chromosome instability is an indicator for unfavorable prognosis, particularly in the HPV-positive patient group.