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Researchers ID behavioral risk factors for head and neck cancers
Date:3/11/2008

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have teased out two distinct sets of risk factors for head and neck cancers, suggesting that there are two completely different kinds of the disease.

In the Johns Hopkins study, head and neck tumors caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus, were most often linked to certain sexual behaviors and marijuana use, rather than tobacco and alcohol. The Johns Hopkins scientists also found that people with the viral-linked cancer were younger, more likely to be white, married, college-educated and have an annual income of $50,000 or higher. By contrast, those not caused by HPV, were associated with tobacco smoking, alcohol use and poor oral hygiene, which are the behaviors most often linked to head and neck cancer.

Our results indicate that HPV-positive and HPV-negative head and neck cancers have different risk-factor profiles and should be considered two distinct diseases, says Maura L. Gillison, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of oncology and epidemiology at Hopkins. They just happen to occur in the same place.

The findings are to be published in the March 12 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Gillison and her colleagues first reported in 2000 that HPV infection is associated with the development of some head and neck cancers, particularly in the upper throat and back of the tongue (oropharynx), where it has been observed in up to 72 percent of patients. In related work, Gillison and colleagues recently reported that HPV-linked cancer has nearly doubled in incidence over the past 30 years in the United States. (http://jco.ascopubs.org/cgi/content/abstract/26/4/612) They also found that head and neck cancer patients with HPV-positive tumors tend to survive longer and are more responsive to treatment, compared with patients with HPV-negative tumors.
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Contact: Vanessa Wasta
wastava@jhmi.edu
410-955-1287
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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