WEDNESDAY, April 10, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that can cause cervical and head and neck cancers, may also trigger some cases of lung cancer, according to a small new study.
Researchers examined 36 tumor tissue samples from patients with non-small-cell lung cancer who had never smoked. Smoking is a major cause of lung cancer, but the causes of lung cancer in nonsmokers can be difficult to pinpoint.
The investigators found that about 6 percent of the tissue samples showed signs of infection from two strains of HPV known to cause cancer. The strains are called HPV 16 and HPV 18.
Further examination of the tissue samples infected with HPV 16 revealed that the virus had integrated into the tumor's DNA, which the researchers said provides stronger evidence that HPV infection caused the tumor.
The study was scheduled to be presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, in Washington, D.C. Study data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
If it is confirmed that HPV plays a role in some cases of lung cancer, the next step is to learn more about those tumors so they can be treated more effectively, said the researchers from the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. This study, however, did not prove a cause-and-effect link between the virus and lung cancer.
Lung cancer kills more than 1 million people a year. About 10 percent of lung cancer cases occur in nonsmokers.
"Given how many patients develop lung cancer, if even a small percentage of those tumors stem from HPV, that ends up being a large number of patients," study author Dr. Ranee Mehra, an attending physician in medical oncology at Fox Chase, said in a center news release.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about lung cancer.