Prevalence of human papillomavirus in head and neck cancers at tertiary care centers in the United States over time

Nicholas Scott-Wittenborn, Gypsyamber D'Souza, Sakshi Tewari, Lisa Rooper, Tanya Troy, Virginia Drake, Elaine O. Bigelow, Melina J. Windon, William R. Ryan, Patrick K. Ha, Ana P. Kiess, Brett Miles, William H. Westra, Wojciech K. Mydlarz, David W. Eisele, Carole Fakhry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for a growing proportion of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (OPSCCs) among men and White individuals. Whether similar trends apply to women, non-Whites, and non-oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (non-OPSCCs) is unknown. METHODS: This is a cross-sectional analysis combining 2 multi-institutional case series of incident head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) cases. Incident HNSCCs from 1995 to 2012 were enrolled retrospectively using banked tumor samples and medical record abstraction. Incident HNSCCs from 2013 to 2019 were enrolled prospectively. The prevalence of tumor HPV biomarkers was tested over 3 time periods (1995-2003, 2004-2012, and 2013-2019). Centralized testing was done for p16 immunohistochemistry (p16) and oncogenic HPV in situ hybridization (ISH). RESULTS: A total of 1209 incident cases of HNSCC were included. Prevalence of p16- and ISH-positive tumors increased significantly for oropharynx cancers over time. The majority were positive after 2013 for White patients (p16, 92%; P <.001; ISH 94%; P <.001), Black patients (p16, 72%; P =.021; ISH 67%; P =.011), and Hispanic patients (p16, 100%; P =.04; ISH 100%; P =.013). For women with OPSCC, the prevalence of p16- and ISH-positive tumors increased significantly to 82% (P <.001) and 78% (P =.004), respectively. For non-OPSCCs, there was increased p16 and ISH positivity overall with 24% p16 and 16% ISH positivity in the most recent time period (P <.001 for both). CONCLUSIONS: The majority of OPSCCs in US tertiary care centers are now p16 and ISH positive for all sex and race groups. In some populations in the United States, 91% of OPSCCs are now caused by HPV. Few non-OPSCCs are p16 and ISH positive.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1767-1774
Number of pages8
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 May 2022


  • head and neck cancer
  • human papillomavirus
  • oropharyngeal cancer
  • prevalence
  • race
  • sex


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