Background: Several epidemiologic studies have shown a broad variation in the prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV) in oral precancerous tissues and oral carcinomas.
Methods: Biopsies and superficial scrapes of lesions, clinically suspected of HPV infection, were taken from patients with potentially malignant and malignant oral lesions, and subject to HPV DNA detection by PCR–Southern blot analysis.
Results: From 22 patients with potentially malignant and malignant lesions analyzed, 41% of the biopsies were HPV DNA positive, whereas 95–100% of the superficial scrapes were positive (McNemar, P < 0.0001). Clinical presumption of HPV infection detected 67% (P < 0.0001) of the HPV DNA positive cases compared with 48% (P < 0.0001) determined by cytology and histopathology. The prevalence of HPV 6, 11, 16 and 18 in the oral mucosa was studied in 59 individuals. While 9% of normal controls were HPV DNA positive, 100% of the patients with potentially malignant and malignant lesions were HPV DNA positive, and the prevailing genotype was HPV 16 followed by HPV 18.
Conclusions: The higher HPV DNA detection rate in superficial oral scrapes than in biopsies suggests that accurate epidemiological information on oral HPV infection/oral carcinogenesis depends not only on the DNA detection technique, but also on the tissue/cell sampling procedure.