Magazine article Science News

Infections Tied to Head and Neck Cancers. (Science News of the Week)

Magazine article Science News

Infections Tied to Head and Neck Cancers. (Science News of the Week)

Article excerpt

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections multiply the risk of certain head and neck cancers, particularly those of the tonsils, researchers report.

There are dozens of HPV variants, many of which are harmless, says study leader Jon Mork of the National Hospital in Oslo. Some HPV is sexually transmitted and is commonly blamed for genital warts.

But the scientific case for HPV infections as the cause of some cancers has been mounting. The strongest evidence so far comes from studies that link several specific virus types, including HPV-16 and HPV-18, to cervical cancer (SN: 6/13/98, p. 382). Other studies have also found HPV-16 particles in prostate tumors (SN: 2/27/99, p. 135).

Evidence for a possible HPV connection to head and neck cancers has been building, too. Last year, for example, researchers found that HPV-16, which might be transmitted through oral sex, was present in tumor cells in people's mouths and throats. However, the study did not show that the virus actually causes these cancers, according to some researchers. They argue that finding HPV in tumor cells could be the result of such cells' becoming more vulnerable to HPV infections.

In an attempt to clarify the connection, Mork and his coworkers searched through cancer registries in Norway, Finland, and Sweden. They identified 292 people who had developed head and neck cancer and had donated blood samples from 1 month to 20 years before they were diagnosed with the disease.

Mork's team then analyzed the stored blood samples to determine how many of the individuals had been infected with the virus before their cancer diagnosis and which type of HPV was present in these people's blood. …

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