Two distinct etiologies of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) have been proposed, DNA damage owing to tobacco and alcohol exposure and human papillomavirus (HPV) oncogene-mediated transformation. Common genetic alterations in HNSCC include TP53 mutations, 11q13 amplification (amp) and CDKN2A/p16 mutations or promoter methlyation. However, in HPV+ HNSCC it is frequent to observe wild-type TP53 and expression of p16. The relationship of this unusual pattern with 11q13 amp has not been tested. In a retrospective study on 125 HNSCC patients, only 17% (five out of 30) of HPV+ vs 44% (39 out of 89) of HPV - tumours expressed 11q13 amp (adjusted odds ratio (OR)=0.2, 95% confidence interval (CI)=0.1-0.6). A subpopulation of tumours (n=69) were classified according to the three molecular markers, TP53, p16 and 11q13 amp. In addition to wild-type TP53, and p16 expression, HPV+ tumours were more likely not to be amplified at 11q13 (OR=6.5, 95% CI=1.8-23.9). As HPV+ HNSCC lack the genetic alterations which are common in other tumours, we hypothesise that HPV infection may represent an early event in the HNSCC carcinogenic process, thus suggesting a distinct molecular pathway.