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Evidence is growing that human papilloma virus is responsible for a subset of head and neck carcinomas. This review analyzes the history and current thinking regarding this relatively new etiologic agent of squamous cell carcinoma.Research over the past year has confirmed that human papilloma virus is associated with subset of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, especially tumors arising from the tonsil. Human papilloma virus 16 is the most common strain found in these tumors. Most studies also indicate that patients with human papilloma virus infection are more likely to have a better prognosis, engage in riskier sexual behavior, and have a history of less tobacco and alcohol consumption than patients who have human papilloma virus-negative tumors. Not all studies confirm these findings, however, and human papilloma virus, even the high-risk strains (16, 18, and 33) are found in a certain percentage of healthy individuals.Human papilloma virus (especially strain 16) has been recognized as a probable etiologic agent for some head and neck squamous cell carcinomas. Most commonly, human papilloma virus is associated with tumors arising from the tonsillar epithelium. Because a definitive causal relationship is still to be identified, current research aims to delineate the specific mechanism whereby human papilloma virus produces squamous cell carcinoma. It is hoped that a vaccine may be produced in the near future that will serve as adjuvant therapy for patients with human papilloma virus-positive tumors.