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Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 17:20 EDT

Cancer Survival Rates Affected By Race and HPV

August 3, 2009

Imagine having a disease that would actually be beneficial to your survival of a certain type of skin cancer?

A recent study in Cancer Prevention Research shows the human papillomavirus, or HPV, actually improves the survival in a form of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma of the head or neck. This, however, does not prove well for African Americans, since they have less HPV infections than whites, decreasing African Americans chance of survival.

In the study, 4 percent of African American patients and 34 percent of white patients were HPV positive. According to Kevin Cullen, M.D., director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center and professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the difference of survival was based on the person’s HPV status. Survival rates were similar among HPV-negative patients with a median survival of 26.6 months. Research showed the median overall survival was more than three times higher for whites (70.6 months) than for African Americans (20.9 months) who were treated with chemotherapy and radiation. Survival for HPV-positive patients could not be calculated because most were still alive.

“There is currently no consensus on why blacks fare worse with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck than whites, but this is the first clue that it may be biologic rather than related to issues of access, insurance, or provider attitudes,” Dr. Cullen was quoted as saying.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, August 2009