The human papilloma virus — or HPV — vaccine, which doctors are now using to help prevent cervical cancer, might have the same effect on other cancers as well — and in men as well as women, reports the Vancouver Sun.
Dr. Glenn Bauman, chairman of oncology at the University of Western Ontario faculty of medicine told the paper that a variety of recent studies had found DNA from the papilloma virus inside cancer tumors.
“I think the tip of the iceberg is this whole HPV connection with cancer,” Bauman said. “What’s interesting is that we’re finding — and we’ve known this for a while, but we’re beginning to appreciate it — that HPV plays a role in other ‘mucosal’ cancers.”
This includes cancers in the head, neck, tonsils, pharynx, the base of the tongue, the upper digestive tract, the urinary tract and genital region, the vulva, penis, vagina and anal canal.
A 2007 study at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center found that oral HPV infection is “the strongest risk factor” for a relatively uncommon throat cancer called oropharyngeal cancer, “regardless of tobacco and alcohol use.”
The virus raised the risk of this cancer by 32 times compared to people with no HPV infection;
Cancer doctors at the University of Michigan report an increase in nasopharyngeal cancer — another relatively rare form found behind the nose and above the throat — after HPV infection;
In 2004, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported that DNA from the HPV virus was present in 10 to 20 per cent of all head and neck squamous cell tumours; and
More recently, the Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire reported that HPV may even cause a common type of skin cancer. It cautions that sun exposure is still the main cause.
“Just the fact that a viral infection is responsible for some fairly significant cancers in people, and that we have a vaccine against it — I think that’s novel and that represents a new direction,” Bauman said.
He suspects there may turn out to be other viruses responsible for still more cancers.
Information from the Vancouver Sun.