Human papillomavirus infection is rare in nonmalignant tonsil tissue in the UK: Implications for tonsil cancer precursor lesions

Elizabeth Palmer, Robert G. Newcombe, Adele C. Green, Carole Kelly, Owen Gill, Gillian Hall, Alison N. Fiander, Evelyne Pirotte, Sam J. Hibbitts, Jarrod Homer, Ned G. Powell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


The incidence of human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated tonsil cancer is increasing but the prevalence of HPV, and of premalignant precursors, in tonsil tissue is unknown. We aimed to assess prevalence of HPV infection in nonmalignant tonsillar crypt epithelia and to histopathologically characterise positive samples. Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tonsil tissue specimens were obtained from an age- and sex-stratified random sample of patients aged 0-69 years whose paired tonsils were archived following elective tonsillectomy at hospitals throughout England and Southern Scotland from 2004 to 2008. Homogenised fresh-frozen tonsil tissue was also obtained from archive for two random subsets of males aged 25-34 and over 44. HPV status was assessed in all samples for 20 mucosal HPV types by GP5+/6+ polymerase chain reaction (PCR) enzyme immunoassay and by HPV16 type-specific PCR targeting the E6 gene. In the homogenised material, HPV status was also assessed for 44 HPV types by SPF10-PCR enzyme immunoassay. Of 4,095 randomly sampled FFPE specimens, amplifiable DNA was extracted from 3,377 (82.5%) and from 511 of 524 (97.5%) homogenised tonsils. HPV DNA was identified in 0 of 3,377 (0%, 95% CI 0-0.089%) fixed samples and 0 of 511 (0%, 95% CI 0-0.58%) homogenised samples. This suggests HPV infection may be rare in tonsil reticulated crypt epithelia. Furthermore, we found no evidence of HPV-associated premalignant neoplasia. These data suggest that if HPV-associated premalignant lesions do occur, they are likely to be rare and may have a high risk of progression to carcinoma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2437-2443
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 UICC.


  • Cancer
  • HPV
  • Human papillomavirus
  • Oropharyngeal
  • Tonsil


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