Many patients with throat cancer associated with oral human papillomavirus (HPV) have anxiety about transmitting the virus to their partners’ and increasing their cancer risk. However, a multi-center prospective study co-led by researchers at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai suggests that cancer risk in partners remain low. The research is reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO).
“The incidence of HPV-related cancer has increased dramatically over the past three decades, but we have limited understanding how the disease progresses of if it is transmitted to the partners of these patients,” said Marshall Posner, MD, Director of Head and Neck Medical Oncology and Office of Cancer Clinical Trials, Associate Director of the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapeutics, and Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Medical Oncology, Tisch Cancer Center at Mount Sinai. “Often, HPV infections that do become cancers often take years to develop. This is the first study to demonstrate that partners of HPV patients with cancer do not have any detectable cancer DNA, and that most partners are not exposed to any active infections.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV with 14 million new cases each year. HPV is commonly spread through sexual contact. Most sexually-active men and women are diagnosed with one type of HPV at some point in their lives. In the United States, more than half of the cancers diagnosed in the oropharynx are linked to HPV.
The study reviewed the histories of 164 patients with HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer (HPV-ONC) and 93 of their spouses or long-term partners. The subjects were enrolled in head and neck cancer clinics at four study sites including Mount Sinai, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the Oregon Health and Science University.
Participants in the study were given an oral rinse where exfoliated cells were collected along with a base line blood sample and cancer history. A detailed risk factor survey was also collected at each visit, including questions on demographics, tobacco and alcohol use, and detailed sexual behaviors. Of the 164 enrolled patients with HPV-ONC, most had stage 4 cancers and oral HPV DNA in their tumors. Partners were primarily female, had performed oral sex, and were never smokers.
This study was funded by the Johns Hopkins Richard Gelb Prevention Award, and a research grant from the Early Detection Research Network.
About the Mount Sinai Health System
The Mount Sinai Health System is an integrated health system committed to providing distinguished care, conducting transformative research, and advancing biomedical education. Structured around seven member hospital campuses and a single medical school, the Health System has an extensive ambulatory network and a range of inpatient and outpatient services—from community-based facilities to tertiary and quaternary care.
The System includes approximately 6,600 primary and specialty care physicians, 12-minority-owned free-standing ambulatory surgery centers, over 45 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island, as well as 31 affiliated community health centers. Physicians are affiliated with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, which is ranked among the top 20 medical schools both in National Institutes of Health funding and by U.S. News & World Report.