Patients with periodontitis and HPV at high risk for oral cancer

Patients with periodontitis who are also infected with the human papilloma virus (HPV) are at a higher risk for tongue cancer, a new study has found.

Researchers from the University of Buffalo and Roswell Park Cancer Institute presented the results of this study at the 2008 American Association of Dental Research meeting.

"HPV plays a significant role in head and neck cancers (HNCs). However, the majority of HPV infections are transient and do not cause malignancy," wrote the researchers. "Persistent HPV infection is a central risk factor for carcinogenesis. Identification of factors for HPV's persistence is critical to facilitate prevention of HNCs."

The study looked at 23 patients who had been diagnosed with primary squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) on the base of the tongue between 1999 and 2005. Patient data were available to assess both HPV and periodontitis status. To assess the cumulative history of periodontitis, the researchers looked at alveolar bone loss (ABL) from panoramic radiographs.

"Tumor status was identified from paraffin-embedded tumor samples analyzed by polymerase chain reaction," explained a University of Buffalo article. "Analysis concentrated on the presence of tumors containing the DNA of two of the most common types of HPV virus associated with oropharyngeal cancers, HPV-16 and HPV-18."

Fifteen of the 23 patients had tumors that tested positive for HPV-16. Fourteen of those patients also had periodontitis.

"Compared to subjects with HPV- tumors, subjects with HPV+ tumors had significantly higher prevalence of periodontitis and higher mean alveolar bone loss," concluded the authors. "History of periodontitis seems to be strongly associated with tumor HPV status. These results need to be confirmed by larger studies, including other HNC sites."

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