Betel quid (BQ) chewing has been a well-documented cause of oral epithelial lesions (OEL). Evolution from early hyperplastic lesions to the late or carcinomatous stage has been recognized. The pathobiological and molecular mechanism, however, remains to be elucidated. In this study, a total of 232 samples obtained from 153 cases of BQ-related OEL were retrospectively evaluated for the expression of p53 and bcl-2 in comparison with 26 cases of BQ-unrelated lesions (n = 29). The possible role of human papillomavirus (HPV) was also investigated. These BQ-related OELs included verrucous hyperplasia (VIH, n = 57, 24.6%), epithelial dysplasia (n = 23, 9.9%), verrucous carcinoma (VC, n = 5, 2.1%) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC, n = 106, 45.7%). Fifty-four cases (35.3%) had multiple lesions. In comparison with the BQ-unrelated OELs, the characteristics of BQ-related OELs were a younger age, male predilection and multicentricity. In contrast to the tongue in BQ-unrelated OELs, the most common site for all types of BQ-related lesions was the buccal mucosa. Immunohistochemical studies of BQ-related lesions showed p53 staining in 30% of dysplasia and 38% of SCC, but a consistent absence in VH and VC. The cases with p53-positive SCC had a higher recurrence rate than p53-negative ones. Bcl-2 expression was negligible for all types of lesions. HPV-6/11 was detectable in 10% of dysplasia and 13% of SCC, but in neither VH nor VC. HPV-16/18, however, was consistently negative for all types of lesions. Our data suggest that p53, but not bcl-2, may play a role in tumor progression of BQ-related OELs, and that VH and VC are distinct and closely related histological lesions. The consistent absence of the malignant-type HPV in all BQ-related lesions suggests that HPV plays an insignificant role in the tumorigenesis of BQ-related oral cancers, although a cooperative role may exist between the benign-type HPV and BQ chewing.
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