HPV Expanding its Cancer Roster

Esophageal cancer likely linked to HPV

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

(RxWiki News) It’s well known that the human papillomavirus (HPV) is linked to cervical cancer. The virus is also associated with other genital cancers, as well as anal cancer. But another cancer may be added to this list.

New research is suggesting that HPV may increase the risk of esophageal cancer by three-fold. The esophagus is the tube that connects the throat with the stomach.

The authors of this research contend that these findings add strength to the argument for widespread HPV vaccination of both sexes.

"Talk to your doctor about HPV vaccines."

For this study, researchers in Australia analyzed data from previous studies (meta-analysis) relating to esophageal cancer.

Surabhi S. Liyanage, a PhD candidate in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales in Sidney, Australia, was the corresponding author.

Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is the most common form of esophageal cancer. ESCC will be diagnosed in an estimated 18,000 Americans (14,500 men and 3,500 women) this year.

ESCC is common in China, South Africa and Iran among men in their mid 70s. The reason it is common in these countries is not fully understood. Diets which are low in fruits and vegetables and high in red meat, lifestyle factors such as smoking and high alcohol consumption, along with environmental risks such as exposure to toxins are all thought to play a role in these international cases.

For this meta-analysis, researchers looked at 21 case-control studies involving 1,223 cases of esophageal cancer and 1,415 healthy comparisons.

HPV was found in 35 percent of the cancer samples and 27 percent of the comparison samples.

When the data was pooled, the researchers found that HPV increased the risk of ESCC by 300 percent.

The study authors admitted that while these findings do not establish that HPV causes esophageal cancer, the data does show that the virus very likely can play a role in the development of this disease.

The researchers said that the data support broadening the use of HPV vaccination around the world.

Two vaccines — Gardasil and Cervarix — are currently recommended in the US for both sexes to protect against cervical and anal cancer.

The vaccines attack two cancer-related strains of HPV: HPV 16 and HPV 18. These vaccines, which are given in a series of three shots, are not widely used outside the United States.

Within the US, Gardasil costs about $150 per dose and Cervarix costs roughly $135 per dose.

“We found, with a significant, robust and strong statistical measure of association, that HPV is associated with a three-fold increase in the risk of ESCC. It further adds to the support of HPV vaccination as a cancer-preventing vaccine for children of both genders, to broaden the preventive targets of the vaccine,” the authors wrote.

This study was published July 24 in PLOS ONE.

No funding information or conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 24, 2013
Last Updated:
July 26, 2013