Discovery Shatters Cervical Cancer Paradigm

Cervical cancer origins expanded

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It's long been known that human papillomaviruses (HPV) cause cervical cancers. And for decades, we have not understood why HPV causes cancer mostly in the cervix, and not several other places in the body.

That mystery has been solved.

Researchers have identified a unique type of cell in the cervix that cause HPV-related cervical cancers.

They also found that when removed, these cells don't re-grow, a finding that could have tremendous bearing on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer.

"Ask your oncologist about new HPV research."

A collaborative study involving researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), Harvard Medical School and the Agency for Science Technology and Research in Singapore made the discovery that shatters the paradigm regarding cervical cancer origins.

"We have discovered a discrete population of cells that are located in a specific area of the cervix that could be responsible for most, if not all, of HPV-associated cervical cancers," said senior paper author, Christopher Crum, MD, director, Women's and Perinatal Pathology at BWH.

He goes on to explain, ""It has been a decades-old mystery why cervical cancers caused by HPV arise only from a discrete region of the cervix, known as the 'squamocolumnar junction', despite the presence of the virus throughout the genital tract. The discovery of these cells finally resolves this mystery and will have wide-ranging impact from developing more meaningful animal models of early cervical carcinogenesis to clinical implications," Dr. Crum said.

In what some scientists are calling "groundbreaking" findings, the research team also learned that when these cells are removed from the cervix, they don't tend to regrow. This, the investigators believe, could advance cancer prevention efforts.

"The removal of these cells in young women before they are subject to HPV infection or precancerous changes could potentially reduce the risk of cervical cancer, but further research is needed to evaluate the benefits and risks of this potential therapy," the authors said.

All of this new knowledge may one day help clinicians tell the difference between benign (non-cancerous) and precancerous cervical lesions, which in turn could guide treatment planning.

"I believe this is a very elegant study. Now we are able to take this information to the next step and try and make treatments against specifically these cells," says Ernst Lengyel, MD, PhD, professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Chicago.

"This might allow us to clearly identify which patients are at risk to develop cervical cancer, and by focused treatment, reduce the extent of surgery, which often includes a hysterectomy," Dr. Lengyel tells dailyRx.

This research is published online the week of June 11, 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

This research was funded by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Institutes of Health, the Singapore-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Alliance for Research and Technology, the European Research Council,

Agence de Nationale, the Institute of Medical Biology; and the Genome Institute of Singapore of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research as well as the Department of Defense.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 13, 2012
Last Updated:
June 14, 2012