It is widely accepted that the most common risk factors for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNC) are tobacco smoking and heavy alcohol consumption. Recent studies showed that an etiologic role of infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) has been implicated in the development of a subset of HNC. HPV-related HNC is associated with sexual behavior but not with tobacco smoking and alcohol drinking, and has a better prognosis with increased sensitivity to both radiation therapy and chemotherapy than HPV-unrelated HNC. Regarding molecular characteristics, immunohistochemical overexpression of p16 is observed in tumor cells with HPV-related HNC, therefore it is currently regarded as a reliable surrogate marker for HPV-related HNC. HPVrelated HNC is a clinical entity entirely distinct from HPV-unrelated HNC. This report presents an overview of the impact of HPV infection as a biomarker for head and neck carcinoma.
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