• human papilloma virus;
  • in situ hybridization;
  • intra-oral squamous cell carcinoma;
  • oral cancer;
  • real-time polymerase chain reaction

Background:  High-risk human papilloma viruses (HPV) are reported to be significant independent risk factors for oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). The prevalence of HPV in OSCC in a South African population sample was evaluated comparing three different HPV detection methods.

Methods:  Tumour and adjacent morphologically normal oral mucosa of 59 resections of primary OSCC were evaluated for the presence of HPV using real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), conventional in situ hybridization (ISH), and a signal amplification ISH technique (Dako GenPointTM).

Results:  HPV18 DNA was detected in seven cases using real-time PCR. No positivity was found with the other two ISH techniques.

Conclusions:  We support the view that HPV is probably unimportant in the pathogenesis of OSCC and hypothesize HPV detection techniques as the main reason for the positive results in many studies. Real-time PCR was confirmed as the most sensitive technique, but researchers are urged to incorporate strict internal controls when using this detection method.