Background: The association of human papillomavirus (HPV) with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) was first described in 1982–1983 by the authors of this review. Prompted by this discovery 35 years ago, an entirely new field of HPV research has emerged, resulting in a paradigm shift from smoking and alcohol as the only etiological factors to confirmation of HNSCC as an important group of HPV-related human malignancies. Summary: In this review, the authors first describe the scope (i.e., HNSCC) by the anatomic sites of the tumors. Their important site-specific differences in epidemiology are emphasized, and the misconceptions caused by the adopted practice of pooling all tumors from these divergent anatomic sites as a single entity (HNSCC) are pinpointed. The convincing evidence of the established risk factors (smoking and alcohol) is briefly addressed, before entering in the discussion on the causal role of HPV in HNSCC pathogenesis. The global HPV prevalence in different subsets of HNSCC is summarized using the data extracted from all meta-analyses published since 2010. Of all HNSCC subsets, oropharyngeal SCC has an HPV profile distinct form all the other subsets, and the possible mechanisms explaining this intimate association with HPV are discussed. Key Messages: Recent global trends show a constant increase in HNSCC rates particularly among younger age groups. The evidence on cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption as the prime risk factors of HNSCC is overwhelming. During the past 35 years, however, increasing evidence has accumulated implicating an important causal role of HPV in HNSCC. These data have important clinical implications, HPV detection and tailored treatment strategies for HPV-positive HNSCCs currently being an integral part of the oncological management practices of HNSCC.

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