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It appears that infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) may be linked with the incidence of squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer. These findings were recently published in the journal BMJ.

There are three main types of cancers that originate in the skin: basal cell carcinoma; squamous cell carcinoma; and melanoma. These different categories of skin cancer indicate the types of skin cells in which the cancer originates. Melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer but by far the most deadly.

The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 200,000 to 300,000 cases of squamous cell skin cancer occur each year in the United States.

Human papillomaviruses (HPV) consist of more than 100 different viruses. Some types of HPV cause warts on the hands or feet; others cause genital warts; and some have been linked with cancer, most notably cervical cancer. Infection with HPV may also be associated with the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer.

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To further investigate the link between HPV infection and incidence of squamous cell skin cancer, researchers evaluated 663 patients with squamous cell carcinoma, 898 patients with basal cell carcinoma, and 805 individuals without skin cancer (controls). All patients were tested for 16 ”genus beta” HPV types (HPV types 5, 8, 9, 15, 17, 20, 23, 24, 36, 38, 49, 75, 76, 92, 96, and 107). These are different from the types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer.

  • Compared with controls, patients with squamous cell carcinoma had a higher prevalence of HPV infection. Patients with basal cell carcinoma, however, did not have a higher prevalence of HPV infection than controls.
  • Infection with a wide range of HPV types appeared to be associated with incidence of squamous cell carcinoma, and, per individual, infection with a greater number of HPV types appeared to increase risk of squamous cell carcinoma.
  • The link between incidence squamous cell carcinoma and HPV infection appeared to be more pronounced among patients who used immunosuppressive drugs known as glucocorticoids. This finding, however, was said to have “limited statistical power” and thus is considered only a potential association at this point.

The researchers concluded that infection with these types of HPV (genus beta) may be linked with the incidence of squamous cell carcinoma, with infection with a greater number of HPV types associated with increased risk. These findings raise the possibility that prevention and treatment of HPV infection could contribute to the prevention of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.

Reference: Karagas MR, Waterboer T, Li Z, et al. Genus ? human papillomaviruses and incidence of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas of skin: population based case-control study. BMJ. 2010;341:c2986.