Tuesday, May 13, 2008
The New York Times reports today on a study concerning a link between oral cancers and human papillomavirus. Nicholas Bakar writes,
The sexually transmitted virus called HPV, for human papillomavirus, is well known to lead to cervical cancer in women — which is why the federal government recommends that all girls be vaccinated for HPV at 11 or 12, before they become sexually active. Now researchers are finding that many oral cancers in men are also associated with the virus.
A clinical trial testing therapies for advanced tongue and tonsil cancers has found that more than 40 percent of the tumors in men were infected with HPV. If there is good news in the finding, it is that these HPV-associated tumors were among the most responsive to treatment. Of an estimated 28,900 cases of oral cancer a year, 18,550 are in men.
“The high risk of HPV-associated cancers in men suggests that vaccinating all adolescents is something that should strongly be considered,” said the lead researcher, Dr. Francis P. Worden, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Michigan.
HPV can enter the mouth during oral sex. A study published in February by researchers at Johns Hopkins estimated that 38 percent of oral squamous-cell cancers are HPV related, and suggested that their increasing number might be a result of changing sexual behaviors.
The new study, published in two papers in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, included 51 men and 15 women with cancers of the tonsils or the base of tongue. The researchers were able to examine biopsies of 42 of the subjects before treatment. After tests for HPV, the researchers found that 27 tumors, nearly two-thirds, were positive for the virus. Of the 51 men, researchers found 22 with HPV. . . .
“Clearly,” Dr. Gillison added, “it should give people optimism that the vaccine that was approved largely for women and for cervical cancer could have broader implications, and also for other cancers that occur in both men and women. All of our clinical trials now will be designed for either HPV-positive or HPV-negative patients. Right now, these patients are treated the same way.” . . .
“Patients who have HPV infections are at higher risk for these cancers,” Dr. Worden said. “But the good news is that if that’s the cause of their cancer, they’re more likely to survive treatment. We still don’t know what the ideal treatment regimens are. For example, these patients may benefit from less intense chemotherapy and radiation.” Although the researchers acknowledge that the number of patients in their study was small, they conclude that especially in patients with HPV-positive tumors, chemotherapy followed by combined chemotherapy and radiation appears to be an effective treatment.
An author of the papers has an interest in a company that is developing an HPV detection method.
I wonder how people will respond to recommendations or mandates for boys to be prescribed Gardasil.