• HPV;
  • PCR;
  • oral cancer;
  • oropharyngeal cancer;
  • antibodies;


The association between human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and the development of head and neck cancer has been documented recently. In this study on 86 head and neck cancer patients and 124 controls, data regarding demographics, behavioral risk factors, and risks related to HPV exposure were collected. HPV detection was carried out using polymerase chain reaction in the tumors and in oral exfoliated cells, and HPV typing by a reverse line blot assay specific for 37 HPV types. Sera were tested by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay specific for HPV proteins. Head and neck cancer cases report significantly more oral-anal contact (P = 0.02) and tobacco and alcohol use than controls (P = 0.001; P = 0.02, respectively). High-risk HPV DNA was detected in 43% of oral washings of cases and 4% of controls (P < 0.0001). The association between the presence of high-risk HPV DNA in oral exfoliated cells and in tumor tissues was statistically significant (adjusted P < 0.0001). The prevalence of HPV-specific antibodies was significantly higher in cases than in controls (adjusted P < 0.0001). These results provide epidemiological and immunological evidence for HR HPV as a strong risk factor (OR = 44.3, P < 0.0001) for head and neck cancer, even after controlling for age, tobacco and alcohol use. The detection of high-risk HPV DNA in oral exfoliated cells and HPV-specific antibodies in serum can be considered as clinically relevant surrogate markers for the presence of a HPV-associated head and neck cancer, with a high sensitivity (83%) and specificity (88%). J. Med. Virol. 81:878–887, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.