Oral HPV infection increases risk of oropharyngeal cancer

June 1, 2007

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Oral infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), particularly HPV-16, increases the risk of developing oropharyngeal cancer, researchers report in the May 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Gypsyamber D'Souza, PhD, from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and colleagues examined the role of HPV infection in 100 patients (14 women and 86 men) with newly diagnosed oropharyngeal cancer and 200 control patients without cancer.

The researchers found a higher risk of oropharyngeal cancer in patients with 26 or more vaginal-sex partners in their lifetime (OR, 3.1) or six or more oral-sex partners in their lifetime (OR, 3.4). Oral HPV infection increased the risk of oropharyngeal cancer (OR, 14.6 for HPV-16; OR, 12.3 for any of 37 HPV types). HPV-16 DNA was found in 72% of tumor specimens, and 64% of cancer patients were seropositive for HPV-16 proteins. Sero positivity for the HPV-16 L1 capsid protein increased the risk of oropharyngeal cancer regardless of alcohol and tobacco use.

D'Souza G, Kreimer AR, Viscidi R, et al. Case–control study of human papillomavirus and oropharyngeal cancer. N Engl J Med. 2007;356:1944-1956.