Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the single most important aetiological agent in the pathogenesis of cervical cancer and pre-cancer. It is increasingly recognised that HPV is causally implicated in other cancers, including head and neck cancer. The incidence of head and neck cancer, and more specifically oropharyngeal cancer, has been increasing over the last decade. An average of 411 cases are now diagnosed annually in Ireland. Oropharyngeal carcinoma is increasing in younger age groups and among females, who are less likely to have strong tobacco or alcohol histories, suggesting the importance of HPV in these cohorts. In the US, approximately 35% of oropharyngeal tumours are HPV-positive. The prevalence of HPV in other head and neck cancers – notably those of the oral cavity and larynx – is less firmly established. In addition, it is unclear whether the survival advantage associated with HPV-positivity in some clinical series and trials persists at the population-level.
In this project, CERVIVA will extend its scope into HPV associated cancers beyond the cervix, by generating the first data on HPV prevalence and genotype distribution, and associations between HPV status and outcome, in head and neck cancers in Ireland.