Health Alert: HPV and second cancers

NATIONAL - About 15 years ago we learned that HPV, the Human Papilloma Virus, causes cervical cancer. Now, researchers say, that could be just the beginning.

They're looking into an HPV risk for other, or second cancers.

Camille Ragin says, "We realized that these cervical cancer patients, when we looked at these second cancers, they were primarily at an increased risk of developing head and neck cancers and also lung cancer."

Women aren't the only ones at risk.

Five years ago Johns Hopkins researchers found HPV in oral cancer and most of the patients were men.

"To our surprise," says Maura Gillison, "it turned out HPV was in a significant number of these cancers and they seemed to have distinct characteristics that made them different form cancers that were, that didn't have HPV in them."

Most of the cancers started in the tonsils and were not associated with smoking or drinking.

"What was critical was just the number of oral sexual partners you've had in your lifetime," said Gillison.

Findings from the studies could raise new questions about HPV vaccine used to prevent cervical cancer.

"If the vaccine is shown to be effective in preventing oral HPV infection, then it would be indicated regardless of gender."

Ragin says "that certainly cannot be ruled out because there are so many other cancers in men, anal cancers and other types of cancers, penile cancers that are in men, that are also driven by HPV."

Studies to see if the vaccine can prevent second cancers -- and its effectiveness in men -- are in the works.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, most people who have HPV infections don't have symptoms and clear the infection on their own.

Posted by Bryce Mursch