It's not clear how HPV reaches the lung, she says; patients may simply breathe it in. And just because these patients have evidence of an HPV infection that does not necessarily mean the infection caused their tumors, Mehra cautions. "It could simply be a coincidence that they had both lung cancer and HPV," she notes. "But the presence of both simultaneously, and the integration of the virus into the tumor's DNA, fuels the hypothesis that they are related."
Although the majority of people are exposed to HPV, these results are largely not cause for concern, assures Mehra. "In my practice, I treat many people with head and neck cancers who are infected with HPV. Some fear that they are 'contagious', and could somehow pass the cancer onto their families," she says. "Mostly, I reassure themeven though most people have been exposed to HPV, it's rare for someone to develop cancer as a result."
And people who have lung cancer but never smoked need not rush to their doctors to determine if they also have HPV, since doctors don't know yet if they should treat these tumors differently, or if the presence of the virus has any impact on prognosis. "These results are very preliminary and not a reason to run to your doctor to find out if you are infected, or panic if you are," she states.
As such, researchers need to investigate what factors drive some people to develop cancer after exposure to HPV, so they can better treat those types of tumors, says Mehra. "Hopefully, this research will fuel some discussion or further studies," she notes. "What we need is a better understanding of why does cancer deve
|Contact: Diana Quattrone|
Fox Chase Cancer Center