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Study finds relationship between human papillomavirus and throat cancer

People infected with a distinct strain of human papillomavirus (HPV) are more likely to contract certain throat cancers, according to a recent study from the University of Oxford.

The study, published in the July issue of Journal of Clinical Oncology, found even though ten of HPV’s nearly 200 strains are linked to cancer, only HPV 16 is linked to oropharyngeal (throat) cancer.

To arrive at the results, researchers looked for the presence of antibodies to the E6 protein, which is indicative of HPV 16 infection, in pre-diagnostic blood samples from 938 patients with head, neck, oesophageal (gullet) and oropharyngeal cancers. They then compared the results with blood samples from a group of 1,599 healthy people.

Researchers found over a third of people with oropharyngeal cancers had antibodies to E6, with less than one percent having them in the control group.

“This method of determining the presence of antibodies to HPV16 E6 is new,” said Samir Khariwala, M.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Minnesota. “This is a promising finding because HPV is quite prevalent and we have yet to find a good way to identify those who are at the highest risk of developing oropharyngeal cancer.”

Khariwala also believes the results will be useful for early detection purposes.

“Knowing who is at the highest risk may allow preventative measures to be taken,” said Khariwala.

As for the HPV vaccination, Khariwala encourages people to follow the CDC recommendation to have young people vaccinated between 9-26 for girls and 11-21 for boys.

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