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N Engl J Med. 2001 Apr 12;344(15):1125-31.

Human papillomavirus infection as a risk factor for squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck.

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Cancer Registry of Norway, Oslo.



Oncogenic human papillomaviruses (HPVs), especially HPV type 16 (HPV-16), cause anogenital epithelial cancers and are suspected of causing epithelial cancers of the head and neck.


To examine the relation between head and neck cancers and HPVs, we performed a nested case-control study within a joint Nordic cohort in which serum samples were collected from almost 900,000 subjects. Samples collected at enrollment from 292 persons in whom squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck developed, on average, 9.4 years after enrollment and from 1568 matched controls were analyzed for antibodies against HPV-16, HPV-18, HPV-33, and HPV-73 and for cotinine levels as a marker of smoking habits. Polymerase-chain-reaction (PCR) analyses for HPV DNA were performed in tumor tissue from 160 of the study patients with cancer.


After adjustment for cotinine levels, the odds ratio for squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck in subjects who were seropositive for HPV-16 was 2.2 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.4 to 3.4). No increased risk was observed for other HPV types. Fifty percent of oropharyngeal and 14 percent of tongue cancers contained HPV-16 DNA, according to PCR analysis.


HPV-16 infection may be a risk factor for squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck.

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