Lung cancer patients more likely to have high-risk human papilloma virus

People who have lung cancer are more likely to have antibodies to a high-risk form of human papilloma virus, according to research presented Monday. Certain strains of human papilloma virus -- or HPV -- can cause cervical cancer.

Researchers from France ran tests on 1,633 lung cancer patients and 2,729 healthy people and found a low rate of antibodies to high-risk HPV strains in the people without lung cancer -- less than 5% of participants. But the incidence was significantly higher in people with lung cancer, and those rates did not differ based on whether they were current smokers, former smokers or had never smoked.

Previous research has shown that some strains of HPV can cause a relatively harmless lung condition called respiratory papillomatosis.

"We know that HPV can reach the lung, but whether HPV can cause frank malignancies is a question we hope to answer," said Devasena Anantharaman, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France. The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Assn. for Cancer Research.

HPV infection is common. And since the new study isn't the first to draw a connection between HPV and lung cancer, there's growing urgency to clarify the role the infection may play.

Related: Lung cancer deaths in women decline for the first time in 40 years

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