HPV: Helping Instead of Hurting

Oral cancer survival benefit seen in black patients with HPV

(RxWiki News) Nobody wants to have the HPV virus. It’s been linked to a number of different cancers, including those of the cervix and head and neck. Strangely, though, it may benefit a group of cancer patients.

African Americans with throat cancer who had the human papillomavirus (HPV) tended to live longer than African Americans who didn’t have the virus. 

"If you suddenly have trouble swallowing food, see you doctor."

Researchers from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit conducted the study led by colleague Maria J. Worsham, PhD, director of research in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

Oropharyngeal cancer affects part of the throat, the base of the tongue, the tonsils, the soft palate (back of the mouth) and the walls of the pharynx (throat).

About 41,000 Americans will be diagnosed with this head and neck cancer this year.

These cancers are twice as common in men than in women, and the disease affects African Americans and Caucasians in about the same numbers.

For this study, researchers worked with 118 patients with oropharyngeal cancer, 67 of whom did not have HPV and 51 of whom did have the virus. Among the participants, 42 percent were African American.

The key findings were that HPV-negative oropharyngeal cancer patients had a 2.7 times higher risk of dying than did HPV-positive patients.

HPV-negative African Americans had far poorer outcomes than did HPV-positive African Americans and Caucasians, regardless of their HPV status.

"This study adds to the mounting evidence of HPV as a racially-linked sexual behavior lifestyle risk factor impacting survival outcomes for both African American and Caucasian patients with oropharyngeal cancer," Dr. Worsham said in a statement.

Findings from this study were published March 26 in the journal Clinical Cancer Research. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
March 29, 2013