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Front Oncol. 2012 Apr 11;2:36. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2012.00036. eCollection 2012.

New Concepts for Translational Head and Neck Oncology: Lessons from HPV-Related Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinomas.

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Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, Research Group Experimental Head and Neck Oncology, University Hospital Heidelberg Heidelberg, Germany.


Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is well established as an etiological agent responsible for a number of pathologies affecting the stratified epithelia of skin and anogenital sites. More recently, the infection by (mucosal) high-risk HPV types has also been found to be causally associated with squamous cell carcinoma in the head and neck region (HNSCC), especially in the oropharynx. Intriguingly, HPV-related oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (OPSCC) represent a distinct clinical entity compared to HPV-negative tumors with particular regard to treatment-response and survival outcome. The association between HPV infection and OPSCC may therefore have important implications for the prevention and/or treatment of OPSCC. The improved survival of patients with HPV-related tumors also raises the question, as to whether a better understanding of the underlying differences may help to identify new therapeutic concepts that could be used in targeted therapy for HPV-negative and improved therapy for HPV-positive cancers. This review summarizes the most recent advances in our understanding of the molecular principles of HPV-related OPSCC, mainly based on functional genomic approaches, but also emphasizes the significant role played by the tumor microenvironment, especially the immune system, for improved clinical outcome and differential sensitivity of HPV-related tumors to current treatment options.


HNSCC; HPV; OPSCC; epigenome; genome; transcriptome

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