HPV-related nonkeratinizing squamous cell carcinoma of the oropharynx: Utility of microscopic features in predicting patient outcome

Rebecca D. Chernock, Samir K. El-Mofty, Wade L. Thorstad, Curtis A. Parvin, James S. Lewis

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159 Scopus citations


Human papilloma virus (HPV) is an etiologic agent in a subset of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs). The aim of this study was to sub-classify SCC of the oropharynx based upon histologic features into nonkeratinizing (NK) SCC, keratinizing (K) SCC, and hybrid SCC, and determine the frequency of HPV and patient survival in each group. Patients with oropharyngeal SCC with a minimum of 2 years of clinical follow-up were identified from radiation oncology databases from 1997 to 2004. All patients received either up front surgery with postoperative radiation or definitive radiation based therapy. In situ hybridization (ISH) for high-risk HPV subtypes and immunohistochemistry for p16, a protein frequently up-regulated in HPV-associated carcinomas, were performed. Overall and disease-specific survival were assessed. Of 118 cases, 46.6% were NK SCC, 24.6% K SCC and 28.8% hybrid SCC. NK SCC occurred in slightly younger patients that were more often male. It more frequently presented with lymph node metastases and was surgically resected compared to K SCC. NK SCC was significantly more likely to be HPV and p16 positive than KSCC (P < 0.001) and to have better overall and disease-specific survival (P = 0.0002; P = 0.0142, respectively). Hybrid SCC was also more likely than K SCC to be HPV and p16 positive (P = 0.003; P = 0.002, respectively) and to have better overall survival (P = 0.0105). Sub-classification of oropharyngeal SCC by histologic type provides useful clinical information. NK SCC histology strongly predicts HPV-association and better patient survival compared to K SCC. Hybrid SCC appears to have an intermediate frequency of HPV-association and patient survival.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-194
Number of pages9
JournalHead and Neck Pathology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • Head and neck
  • Human papillomavirus
  • Hybrid squamous cell carcinoma
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In situ hybridization
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy
  • Keratinizing squamous cell carcinoma
  • Nonkeratinizing squamous cell carcinoma
  • Oropharynx
  • P16


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