The University of MichiganNews Services
The University Record Online
search
Updated 10:00 AM October 12, 2009
 

record update


front

accolades

briefs

view events

submit events

UM employment


obituaries
police beat
regents round-up
research reporter
letters


archives

Advertise with Record

contact us
meet the staff
contact us

  Research
Rare head and neck cancer linked to HPV

An increase in cases of a rare type of head and neck cancer appears to be linked to HPV, or human papillomavirus, according to new Comprehensive Cancer Center research.

The study looked at patients with nasopharyngeal cancer, a tumor that grows behind the nose and at the top of the throat, above the tonsils. This rare cancer occurs in less than 1 of every 100,000 Americans.

"Though rare, this is the first report of nasopharyngeal cancer being caused by the HPV epidemic," says study author Dr. Carol Bradford, professor and chair of otolaryngology at the Medical School. "We are in the middle of a tonsil cancer epidemic, seeing many patients with tonsil cancer linked to HPV. It turns out that HPV may also be a new cause of this rare form of cancer that occurs in this hidden location."

In the study, which appears online in the journal Head & Neck, the researchers looked at tissue samples taken before treatment for either nasopharyngeal cancer or tonsil cancer. Of the 89 patients in the study, five had nasopharyngeal cancer, and four of those were positive for HPV.

At the same time, the four HPV-positive tumors also were all negative for Epstein-Barr virus, which previously has been one of the biggest infectious causes of nasopharyngeal cancer.

"Since I began studying head and neck cancer, I have wondered what the cause of Epstein-Barr virus-negative nasopharyngeal tumors might be," says study author Thomas Carey, professor of otolaryngology and pharmacology, and co-director of the head and neck oncology program at the Comprehensive Cancer Center. "This research suggests that there is a changing etiology for nasopharyngeal cancer in the North American population that may mirror the HPV-positive epidemic of tonsil cancer."

Overall, about 60 percent of nasopharyngeal cancer patients are alive five years after treatment. In fact, death rates for this type of cancer have declined 4 percent per year. The researchers suspect one potential reason is that HPV-related tumors are more responsive to chemotherapy or radiation than tumors linked to the Epstein-Barr virus.

Because nasopharyngeal cancer is so rare, the authors propose a multi-center trial to recruit more patients to verify the role of HPV in nasopharyngeal cancer.

Additional U-M authors are Dr. Jessica Maxwell, Bhavna Kumar, Dr. Felix Feng, Dr. Jonathan McHugh, Dr. Kitrina Cordell, Dr. Avraham Eisbruch, Dr. Francis Worden, Dr. Gregory Wolf, Dr. Mark Prince, Dr. Jeffrey Moyer, Dr. Theodoros Teknos and Dr. Douglas Chepeha.

More Stories