Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is one of the most common cancers in the Indian subcontinent. Although tobacco and alcohol are the main etiologic factors for nearly three-fourth of these cancers, no definite etiologic factor can be identified in one-fourth of the cases. There is growing evidence that human papilloma virus (HPV) may act as a cocarcinogen, along with tobacco, in the causation of oral cancers. The role of HPV in the etiology of anogenital cancers has been firmly established, and infection with this virus has also been shown to have prognostic significance. However, there is no clear evidence to support its involvement in oral carcinogenesis.
We searched the PubMed database for all literature published from 1985 to 2008 and performed a systemic review in order to understand the relationship of HPV with oral cancers and its prevalence in various sub-sites in the oral cavity.
Association of HPV is strongest for oropharyngeal cancers, especially cancers of the tonsils, followed by those of the base of tongue. High-risk HPV-16 is the predominant type; it commonly affects the younger age-groups, with males appearing to have a predisposition for infection with this strain. Its prevalence increases from normal to dysplasia and finally to cancer. HPV prevalence has been reported to be twice as high in premalignant lesions as in normal mucosa and is nearly five times higher in OSCC. The overall prevalence of HPV in OSCC ranges between 20-50%. OSCCs associated with HPV have been found to have better outcomes, being more responsive to radiotherapy and showing higher survival rates.
In view of the association of HPV with OSCC, it should be worthwhile to conduct further experimental studies to elucidate its role in oral carcinogenesis.