Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) accounts for 0.6% of all cancers worldwide with the highest prevalence in South East Asia, Southern China and Northern Africa but the disease is uncommon in Europe with an annual incidence in this region of less than 1 per 100 000. Although the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a well known causative agent in NPC, recent reports have implicated oncogenic Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in a subgroup of these tumours. The recent striking rise of oropharyngeal carcinoma has been attributed to HPV, but little is known about the prevalence and clinical significance of the virus in NPC. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of oncogenic HPV in NPC from tissue archives of two head and neck cancer centres in the UK.
Samples were available for 67 patients with clinically validated NPC. The detection of high-risk HPV was carried out by screening all cases for p16 using immunohistochemistry and HPV DNA by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using GP5+/6+ primers. All cases with p16 over-expression or positive for HPV by PCR were then examined by high-risk HPV DNA in-situ hybridisation and genotype analysis by PCR.
Eleven cases (11/67, 16.4%) showed concurrent over-expression of p16 and evidence of high-risk HPV DNA by in-situ hybridisation; the majority were HPV16 positive. Of these 11 cases, nine occurred in Whites and two in Blacks. Histologically, there were two keratinising squamous cell carcinoma and nine non-keratinising carcinomas (eight differentiated and one undifferentiated). None of the HPV-positive cases showed any co-infection with EBV. There was no statistically significant difference in overall survival outcome between patients with HPV-positive and HPV-negative NPC.
The results of this study show that oncogenic HPV is associated with a subgroup of NPCs and is more likely to occur in Whites. However, unlike oropharyngeal carcinoma there was no significant difference in overall survival between patients with HPV-positive and HPV-negative NPC.