INFECTION with human papillomaviruses increases the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma and treatment of the viruses could be a future strategy for skin cancer prevention, a large population study suggests.

US researchers investigated the association between seropositivity to 16 genus β human papillomaviruses and non-melanocytic skin cancers by collecting plasma samples from 2366 subjects aged 25-74 years and tested for antibodies.

Subjects in the study included 663 patients with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), 898 with basal cell carcinoma and 805 controls.

No association was detected for basal cell carcinoma but patients with antibodies to two or three of the β HPV types were 1.4 times more likely than controls to have SCC and this increased to 1.7 times when antibodies to more than eight β HPV subtypes were detected.

“Our findings substantiate previous observations and provide additional evidence for increasing risk with greater numbers of β type infections rather than a model in which risk is associated with either a single human papillomavirus type or group of types,” the researchers wrote in the BMJ.

The authors said the strength of the results was backed by the fact that the risk relationship was magnified in patients on immunosuppressive therapies.

“Given the widespread and growing occurrence of these malignancies, our results raise the possibility of reducing the health and economic burden of these cancers through prevention or treatment of human papillomavirus infection,” the authors said.

The study findings come as reports of new data show that the introduction of the National HPV Vaccination Program in 2007, which targets four HPV subtypes including oncogenic subtypes 16 and 18, has reaped population level benefits in the program’s 12-26 year old target group.

A 60% decline in presentations for genital warts among women who received the vaccine and a 30% decline among men were reported last week.

BMJ 2010; 341: c2986 doi:10:1136/bmj.c2986.

Posted: 12 July, 2010

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