OBJECTIVES: Papilloma frequently develops as a benign tumor of the head and neck area, but its potential for malignant transformation has yet to be studied. This study aims to provide basic information for papillomas using the immunohistochemical staining of matrix metalloproteinase 2 (MMP-2) and human papilloma virus (HPV) 16 and 18. MATERIALS AND METHODS: To evaluate the malignant transformation of papillomas, the selected tissue samples were serially diagnosed with pre-cancerous papilloma (with epithelial dysplasia, pseudo-epitheliomatous hyperplasia) or malignant lesion (squamous cell carcinoma, SCC) after the first diagnosis (squamous papilloma, inverted papilloma). The selected tissues were stained with an antibody to MMP-2 and HPV 16-E7, HPV 18-L1. A statistical analysis was performed according to each transformation step. RESULTS: The epithelial layer of papilloma and pre-cancerous papilloma lesions had a similar MMP-2 expression, but that of the malignant lesion had a significantly increased MMP-2 expression. HPV 16 and 18 infection rates were 28.6%, 33.3% and 63.6% in papillomas, pre-cancerous papilloma lesions, and SCC. CONCLUSIONS: A relatively high MMP-2 expression and HPV 16 or 18 infection of papillomas may be associated with early events in the multistep processes of malignant transformation of papillomas.