Service d’anatomie et de biologie cellulaire, université de Mons-Hainaut, 20, place du Parc, B-7000 Mons, Belgique, Service d’anatomopathologie, université de Liège, place du 20-Août, 9, 4000 Liège, Belgique
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common causes of sexually transmitted infection in the world. France and Belgium present one of the highest incidence of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) worldwide. Besides, considering only the male population, HNSCCs represent the fourth most frequent cancer after prostate, lung and colon cancers. Although the causal link between high-risk HPVs and cervical carcinoma is well established, the implication of this viral infection in HNSCC remains debatable. Here, we discuss current knowledge concerning the HPV implication in HNSCCs. Based on our literature review, 20 to 25% of HNSCCs could be associated with oncogenic HPVs, in particular HPV type 16. The oropharynx — more precisely the tonsil — is the head and neck location presenting the highest incidence of HPV infection. Moreover, a clear increase of tonsillar carcinoma incidence has been described. As observed in cervical carcinomas, HPV positive HNSCCs are sexually transmitted and characterized by alterations of p53 and pRb signalling pathways. Several studies have shown that HPV positive subgroup presented better prognosis particularly if these patients overexpressed p16INK4. New studies regarding HPV status in HNSCCs are warranted to provide a rationale for large scale HPV vaccination in young male populations.