Breakthrough Research in Human Papillomavirus-Related Mouth Cancer

A breakthrough piece of research found that monitoring cancer tumors for the human papillomavirus (HPV) could help health experts predict a patient’s survival chances, which were found to be greater in those with HPV-positive cancer. The study was conducted by Dr. Angela Hong of the University of Sydney, who  monitored 198 mouth cancer patients after they had surgery or radiotherapy. The study followed the patients for 2 years, and it was found that those with HPV-positive cancer were 4 times less likely to die than those who were HPV-negative cancer. It was also discovered that cancer was 3 times less likely to recur at the primary site in patients with HPV-positive cancer. Dr. Hong said, “Our study, which focused on a group of patients with advanced oropharyngeal cancer, found that those with cancer caused by HPV had a significantly better chance of survival than cancer which was not caused by HPV. And this beneficial HPV effect was seen regardless of the type of treatment they had. HPV status is now the strongest predictor of whether a patient will survive oropharyngeal cancer or whether the disease will return. Various clinical trials are now in development to tailor treatment according to HPV status of tumors.”
Though tobacco is considered to be the main cause for mouth cancer, experts have suggested that HPV will become the prominent risk factor within the next decade. US studies have linked HPV to more than 20,000 cancer cases in the past 5 years. Alcohol is another key risk factor, with those who drink and smoke in excess up to 30 times more likely to develop the condition. A balanced diet is an important part of the battle against mouth cancer, as a third of cases are linked to an unhealthy diet. Evidence has also shown that an increase in omega 3, found in fish and eggs, and fiber, found in nuts, seeds, whole wheat pasta and brown rice, can help lower risks. (Source: British Health Foundation news release, November 5, 2010)