Human papillomavirus (HPV) is now recognized to cause a subset of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC). Although excessive tobacco and alcohol use continue to be important risk factors for HNSCC, epidemiologic studies suggest that more than 25% of HNSCC are now caused by HPV. The incidence of HPV-related HNSCC is increasing, highlighting the need to understand the oral HPV infections causing these cancers. This article reviews the evidence for a causal association between HPV and HNSCC, examines the changing epidemiologic trends of HNSCC, and discusses what is currently known about oral HPV infection, natural history, and transmission.
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