Magazine article Science News

Genital-Wart Virus Linked to Penile Cancer

Magazine article Science News

Genital-Wart Virus Linked to Penile Cancer

Article excerpt

Two new scientific studies add to the evidence implicating a sexually transmitted "bug" in the development of penile cancer, a malignancy rare in the United States but more common in Brazil and other Latin American countries.

The organism in question is the human papillomavirus (HPV). Virologists have identified more than 60 different types of HPV, including some that cause harmless warts on the hands and feet. Other types, such as HPV-16 and HPV-18, cause nearly invisible "flat warts" of the genitals. These strains are associated with cervical cancer in women (SN: 6/8/91, p.362) but had not been clearly linked previously to penile cancer.

A study presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association, held in Washington, D.C., suggests that HPV-16 and HPV-18 may cause up to one-third of all U.S. penile cancers. The new study is the largest to look at HPV and cancer of the penis in the United States.

"HPV is associated with penile cancer," says lead investigator John S. Wiener of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "It is the strongest data yet to prove that association," he says.

Wiener and his colleagues began their experiment by obtaining preserved samples of tumors taken from 29 men with cancer of the penis who had been treated at Duke and other medical institutions between 1970 and 1991. Using polymerase chain reaction, a powerful technique that multiplies trace amounts of genetic material, the researchers searched for viral DNA in the tumor specimens.

They discovered DNA characteristic of HPV-16 in eight of the 29 samples, or 28 percent. One man of the 29 had DNA from HPV-18 in his tumor. No sample contained both types of virus, Wiener reported at the meeting.

In six of the 29 cases, the Duke team analyzed tissue taken from the primary tumor as well as from lymph nodes to which the cancer had spread. …

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