Gum Disease, HPV a Double Whammy

FRIDAY April 4, 2008 -- Your risk of developing tongue cancer increases if you have severe gum disease along with human papillomavirus (HPV), new research suggests.

Previous studies have found periodontitis, which destroys connective tissue and bone supporting the teeth, and HPV each pose increased risks of cancer in the head, neck or tongue. This new study, from researchers at the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, shows the two may work in tandem.

In a study of 30 patients newly diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma on the base of the tongue, 63 percent (19 patients) had tumors testing positive for a common type of HPV. In addition, 90 percent of the patients with HPV-positive tumors had periodontitis, and 79 percent of patients whose tumors showed no presence of HPV did not have periodontitis.

"Evidence of periodontitis-HPV synergy has important practical implications, because there is a safe treatment for periodontitis but no treatment for HPV infection," Mine Tezal, an assistant professor in the dental school's Department of Oral Diagnostic Sciences, said in a prepared statement. "If these results are confirmed by other studies, this has a tremendous relevance in predicting and intervening in the initiation and prognosis of HPV-related diseases, including head and neck cancers."

Tezal, who is also a research scientist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, is scheduled to present the finding Friday at the American Association of Dental Research annual meeting, in Dallas.

Most people contract HPV infection at least once in their lives, but one's immune system often fights it off without incident.

"Persistence of HPV infection is the strongest risk factor for carcinogenesis," Tezal said. "Thus, the identification of factors that influence the persistence of HPV infection is critical to facilitate efforts to prevent head and neck cancers. This study implicates that chronic inflammation and co-infection with oral bacteria may be significant factors in the natural history of HPV infection."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about oral cancer.

Posted: April 2008


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