HPV Infection May Extend Cancer Patient Lives

Oropharyngeal cancer survival better in those with HPV

July 24, 2012 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes a number of malignancies, including head and neck and cervical cancers. Oddly enough, being infected with the virus may help those living with oral cancer.

Researchers believe that having HPV improves the lifespan of African Americans who have throat cancer, compared to African Americans who do not have the virus.

"If you have trouble swallowing, see your doctor."

These are the unexpected findings of a group of researchers, led by Maria J. Worsham, PhD, director of research in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

"This study adds to the mounting evidence of HPV as a racially-linked sexual behavior lifestyle risk factor impacting survival outcomes for both African American and Caucasian patients with oropharyngeal cancer," Dr. Worsham said.

Oropharyngeal cancer affects part of the throat, including the base of the tongue, tonsils, soft palate (back of the mouth) and the walls of the throat (pharynx). Risk factors for this oral cancer include smoking, drinking alcohol and HPV infection.

To look at how HPV status impacted the outlook of throat cancer patients, researchers worked with 118 patients - 67 of whom did not have the virus and 51 individuals who did.  A total of 42 individuals in the study were African American.

Here's what researchers learned:

  • African Americans were less likely than Caucasians to have the virus (HPV-positive) as are people over the age of 50.
  • HPV-negative patients who didn't have the virus were nearly 3 times (2.9) more likely to die than those with the virus.
  • African Americans who were were not infected with HPV had significantly lower survival rates than HPV-positive African Americans and Caucasians with and without the virus.

These study results were presented July 22 at the 8th International Conference on Head & Neck Cancer in Toronto. The research was funded by a National Institutes of Health grant.

All research is considered preliminary before it's published in a peer-reviewed journal.