Human papillomavirus -- the major cause of cervical cancer -- also infects a
third of throat cancer patients, U.S. and British researchers say.
Aimee R. Kreimer of the National Cancer Institute, part of the National
Institutes of Health, and Ruth C. Travis of University of Oxford, and numerous
colleagues in several countries identified 638 study participants.
Of the study participants, 180 had oral cancers, 135 oropharynx cancers -- part
of the pharynx -- 247 hypopharynx/larynx cancers and 300 patients had esophageal
cancers. The study also involved 1,599 controls.
There are more than 100 types of HPV and most people recover easily but two
strains -- HPV-16 and HPV-18 -- cause most cervical and oral cancers.
Prediagnostic plasma samples from patients were collected, on average, six years
before diagnosis. Control participants were analyzed for antibodies against
multiple proteins of HPV16 as well as HPV6, HPV11, HPV18, HPV31, HPV33, HPV45
At the end of the study period the researchers checked for the presence of
antibodies to one of HPV's key proteins, known as E6. The protein disables the
cells' protection system that prevents cancer, but detecting the antibodies
indicates HPV overcame the defenses.
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found 34.8 of those
with throat cancer had the antibodies, compared with 0.6 percent of those who
The findings indicated HPV-16 infection might be a significant cause of
oropharyngeal cancer, in the middle part of the pharynx, behind the mouth, and
includes the back one-third of the tongue, the soft palate, the side and back
walls of the throat and the tonsils.
Recently, actor Michael Douglas caused a stir when he said throat cancer might
be linked to oral sex.