The current literature fully supports HPV (human papillomavirus)-associated OPSCC (oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma) as a unique clinical entity. It affects an unambiguous patient population with defined risk factors, has a genetic expression pattern more similar to cervical squamous cell carcinoma than non-HPV-associated HNSCC (head and neck squamous cell carcinoma), and may warrant divergent clinical management compared with HNSCC associated with traditional risk factors. However, a detailed understanding of the molecular mechanisms driving these differences and the ability to exploit this knowledge to improve clinical management of OPSCC has not yet come to fruition. The present review summarizes the aetiology of HPV-positive (HPV+) OPSCC and provides a detailed overview of HPV virology and molecular pathogenesis relevant to infection of oropharyngeal tissues. Methods of detection and differential gene expression analyses are also summarized. Future research into mechanisms that mediate tropism of HPV to oropharyngeal tissues, improved detection strategies and the pathophysiological significance of altered gene and microRNA expression profiles is warranted.

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