Paradigm shift: Link discovered between HPV, skin cancer

December 1, 2009

Developments that link HPV to skin cancer could change the frontiers of medicine.

Key Points

"Research already shows that HPV causes many epidermal cancers.

"It's strongly linked to at least 95 percent of cervical cancers; 70 percent of anal cancers; 50 percent of vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers; and 20 percent of oropharyngeal cancers.1

More than 100 human papillomaviruses have been identified. They are numbered according to the order of their discovery. Scientists have recently subdivided the viruses into three subfamilies (alpha, beta and mu genera) based on genetic similarity.

According to Dr. Strasswimmer, HPV's mechanism of action is interference at the cellular level with two master switches or oncogenes, p53 and RB. High-risk human papillomaviruses - those associated with cancer - are very skillful at inactivating or altering the switches.

In contrast, low-risk viruses - those associated with warts - are not.