November 5, 2008

HPV Makes Some Cancers Harder to Treat

The human papillomavirus, HPV, in cervical as well as head and neck cancers makes them resistant to therapy, U.S. researchers said.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, Jonsson Cancer Center, said virtually all human cancers experience a state called intratumoral hypoxia, or a low amount of oxygen within the tumor.

Senior author Dr. Matthew Rettig showed that the HPV-positive cancers adapted to and took advantage of the hypoxic environment by expressing a protein that activates a cell signaling pathway that helps the cancers survive, grow and spread.

The research, done on cells in culture and in animal models, may lead to the development of new therapies that target the cell signaling pathway, thereby interrupting ability of the cancer cells to thrive, Rettig said.

In those cases where the cancer is HPV-positive, the virus will make the disease more aggressive and deadly. Finding a way to stop the virus from prompting the cancers to grow and spread more quickly could save lives, Rettig said.

The findings are published in the journal Cancer Cell.