Esophageal cancer (EC) is responsible for almost half a million deaths worldwide annually and has a multifactorial etiology, which may account for its geographical variation in incidence. In the last 30 years the potential of human papillomaviruses (HPV) as oncogenes or co-factors in the tumorigenic process of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) has been widely studied. While the etiology of HPV in cervical and certain other anogenital and aerodigestive cancers has been established, results regarding its role in EC have been largely inconclusive. A causal association can be evaluated only with a case-control study, where normal controls are compared to ESCC cases for the presence of HPV. We reviewed all studies investigating ESCC tissue for HPV DNA and identified 139 that met our inclusion criteria, of which only 22 were case-control studies. Our results support previous findings of higher levels of HPV detection in high-risk ESCC regions than in areas of low risk. In addition, we confirm that the role of HPV in ESCC remains unclear, despite an accumulation of studies on the subject. The variations in investigative technique, study design and sample types tested may account for the lack of consistency in results. There is a need for a meta-analysis of all case-control studies to date, and for large, well-designed case-control studies with adequate power to investigate the association. The potential benefits of prophylactic HPV vaccines could be evaluated if HPV is identified as an etiological factor in EC, highlighting the need for further research in this area.
- Esophageal neoplasms
- Human papillomavirus vaccines
- Human papillomaviruses (HPV)
- Squamous cell carcinoma