People infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) have a better chance of surviving a type of head and neck cancer than those without the infection. The findings may help explain why black cancer patients fare worse than whites.
Kevin Cullen of the University of Maryland in Baltimore and his colleagues found that whites with squamous cell carcinoma of the throat survived about three times longer than blacks with this condition. By analysing biopsy specimens from 196 whites and 28 blacks, the authors determined that this disparity might be explained by HPV status: the survival rate was two-and-a-half times higher for infected patients than uninfected patients, and white patients were almost nine times more likely to be HPV-positive than blacks.
Cullen says HPV may make tumours more vulnerable to chemotherapy and radiation.