20-70% of cancers in the head and neck (e.g. in the tonsils or the oral cavity) are caused by human papillomaviruses (HPV). However, no precancers caused by HPV could be identfied in this region to date. This has important implications for early detection of cancers caused by HPV: Generally, the early diagnosis of precancers prevents the development of overt cancer that could be difficult to treat or spread to other body sites. The abscence of identifiable precancers that are caused by HPV in the head and neck means that these lesions are most commonly only detected if they have already developed into HPV-induced cancer. In this study we intend identifying HPV-precancers from a unique cohort of patients with lesions in the oral cavity by using a large panel of markers that can indicate cellular alterations by HPV.
Thereby, we aim to understand HPV-related cancer development in the head and neck in more detail and develop approaches for early detection and prognostic information on this basis.