Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

BACKGROUND: Oncogenic human papillomaviruses (HPVs), especially HPV type 16 (HPV-16), cause anogenital epithelial cancers and are suspected of causing epithelial cancers of the head and neck. METHODS: To examine the relation between head and neck cancers and HPVs, we performed a nested case-control study within a joint Nordic cohort in which serum samples were collected from almost 900,000 subjects. Samples collected at enrollment from 292 persons in whom squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck developed, on average, 9.4 years after enrollment and from 1568 matched controls were analyzed for antibodies against HPV-16, HPV-18, HPV-33, and HPV-73 and for cotinine levels as a marker of smoking habits. Polymerase-chain-reaction (PCR) analyses for HPV DNA were performed in tumor tissue from 160 of the study patients with cancer. RESULTS: After adjustment for cotinine levels, the odds ratio for squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck in subjects who were seropositive for HPV-16 was 2.2 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.4 to 3.4). No increased risk was observed for other HPV types. Fifty percent of oropharyngeal and 14 percent of tongue cancers contained HPV-16 DNA, according to PCR analysis. CONCLUSIONS: HPV-16 infection may be a risk factor for squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck.

Original publication




Journal article


N Engl J Med

Publication Date





1125 - 1131


Adult, Antibodies, Viral, Carcinoma, Squamous Cell, Case-Control Studies, Cohort Studies, Cotinine, Female, Head and Neck Neoplasms, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Odds Ratio, Papillomaviridae, Papillomavirus Infections, Risk Factors, Tumor Virus Infections