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15 March 2006
Human Papillomavirus Behind Skin Cancer?

Scientists from Dartmouth Medical School believe that a variant of human papillomavirus (HPV) could play a role in the development of squamous cell carcinomas, a common type of skin cancer. Their study, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, used new technology to detect antibodies from a strain of HPV on skin cancer samples.

"Although sun exposure and sensitivity to sun are still the main culprits in skin cancer, our findings suggest skin types of HPV also may play a role in the development of squamous cell carcinomas," said lead investigator, Dr. Margaret Karagas.

Previous research established an association between cancer of the cervix and "alpha", or mucosal, types of HPV. Karagas and her team focused their research on the skin types or "beta" HPVs. The research team searched for beta HPV antibodies in plasma samples from patients with squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinomas and a cancer-free control group.

Using a new technique called multiplex serology, the researchers detected HPV antibodies in patients diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma more frequently than in the cancer-free control subjects. The basal cell carcinomas did not exhibit any additional HPV antibodies. "This makes sense because we have known that patients who are taking immunosuppressive drugs, such as organ transplant recipients have a tendency to develop squamous cell skin cancers, and that their tumors frequently contain these beta type HPVs," said Karagas.

The researchers also conducted interviews with the patients to assess other skin cancer factors, but even after taking all other factors into account, there was still an association between HPV and squamous skin cancer. "While further study is needed, a potential role of viruses in skin cancer occurrence could represent a new line of investigation for the detection and treatment of squamous cell skin cancer," said Karagas.

Dartmouth Medical School


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