HPV virus 'linked to third of throat cancer cases'
'Safer sex may reduce the risk of getting or passing on HPV, but condoms won't stop infections completely'
A new study suggests that one third of people diagnosed with throat cancer are infected with a form of the HPV virus. HPV, or human papillomavirus is the major cause of cervical cancer. The virus is commonly spread through genital or oral contact.
"If the HPV vaccine can also protect against oral HPV infections and cancers, then it could have a broader potential protective effect, but we don't have enough research yet to tell us," Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK's director of health information says.
There are more than 100 types of HPV. Most people will be infected with HPV at some point, but the immune system in most cases will offer adequate protection.
Two HPV strains which are most likely to cause cancer: HPV-16 and HPV-18. HPV-16 is thought to be responsible for around 60 percent of cervical cancers, 80 percent of anal cancers and 60 percent of oral cancers.
This study examined HPV's link with cancer of the back of the throat, or oropharyngeal cancer. Blood test results were collected from people who took part in a huge prospective study into lifestyle and cancer. Subjects were all in good health at the beginning of the study.
Test subjects all rendered a blood sample when they joined the study. Researchers were able to check for the presence of antibodies to one of HPV's key proteins; E6, which knocks out part of cells' protection system, which should prevent cancer developing.
Having the antibodies means HPV has already overcome that defense and caused cancerous changes in cells.
Comparing blood test results more than 10 years old, it was found that 135 people who went on to develop throat cancer; the other 1,599 remained cancer-free.
The University of Oxford team found 35 percent of those with throat cancer had the antibodies, compared with less than one percent of those who were cancer-free. These patients were more likely to survive throat cancer than people whose disease had other causes, such as alcohol or tobacco use.
Eighty-four percent of people with the antibodies were still alive five years after diagnosis, compared with 58 percent of those without.
"These striking results provide some evidence that HPV-16 infection may be a significant cause of oropharyngeal cancer," Dr. Ruth Travis, a Cancer Research UK scientist at Oxford who worked on the study, said.
Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK's director of health information, sounded a warning bell. "HPV is an extremely common virus . Practicing safer sex may reduce the risk of getting or passing on HPV, but condoms won't stop infections completely.
"If the HPV vaccine can also protect against oral HPV infections and cancers, then it could have a broader potential protective effect, but we don't have enough research yet to tell us," she added.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
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