Human papillomavirus genome variants and head and neck cancers: A perspective

Jean Damien Combes, Silvia Franceschi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Human papillomaviruses (HPV) cause infections that are responsible for diverse clinical manifestations from benign conditions to invasive cancer. As different HPV types are associated with variable pathogenic potential, minor genetic variations within a given high-risk HPV type might also be associated with distinct oncogenic capacities, through variable ability of persistence or risk of progression to precancer/cancer. Most recent HPV variant studies in the cervix using latest sequencing technology confirmed that minor changes in the HPV genome can have a major influence on carcinogenesis and have revealed key data that help better understand the carcinogenicity of HPV at a molecular level. Here we review the limited number of studies on HPV genome variants in head and neck cancers (HNC) and discuss their implications for cancer research in the light of accumulated knowledge for the cervix. Challenges in transposing HPV variant studies from the lower anogenital to the upper aerodigestive tract are also discussed, highlighting the main gaps of knowledge in the field of HPV-induced HNC. Specifically in the head and neck region, the lack of characterisation of precancerous lesions and the difficulty in sampling normal tissue will challenge the development of accurate studies. Although there is so far no indication that HPV variant research in HNC could directly translate into clinical application, such research is expected to be useful to disentangle unanswered questions in the pathogenesis of HNC. Yet, history of HPV variant research suggests that, to be successful, studies will require large international collaborative efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13
JournalInfectious Agents and Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 10 2018


  • Epidemiology
  • Head and neck cancer
  • HPV genome
  • HPV variants
  • Human papillomavirus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Oncology
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Cancer Research


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