Two major villains in the world of health are tobacco smoke and the human papillomavirus (HPV). Separately, they are trouble, but when they work together, they can be deadly.
Researchers from the University of São Paulo in Brazil and the University of Chile found that these two bad guys can team up to raise the risk of head and neck cancer.
Let’s learn more about their study, which was shared in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
What is Head and Neck Cancer?
Head and neck cancer is not just one kind of cancer, but a group. It can affect various parts, including your mouth, nose, sinuses, tonsils, throat, and thyroid.
In 2020, this type of cancer touched the lives of about 830,000 people around the world. More than half of these people didn’t survive. In Brazil alone, nearly 21,000 people lost their lives to this disease in 2019.
Historically, the top causes of head and neck cancer have been alcohol, tobacco, and poor oral hygiene. But in the last few decades, HPV has emerged as a significant risk factor.
This virus is now a leading cause of this type of cancer, especially among younger and wealthier patients.
The Double Threat of Smoking and HPV
In this study, the researchers didn’t just look at smoking and HPV as separate cancer-causing factors. They were interested in what happens when these two factors interact.
Both smoking and HPV can increase oxidative stress and DNA damage, which can lead to cancer.
Previous studies have also found that these factors can control a potential biomarker of oral cancer called superoxide dismutase 2 (SOD2).
In the lab, the researchers worked with oral cells that were infected with HPV and exposed to cigarette smoke.
They discovered that levels of SOD2 and DNA damage significantly increased compared to control cells, hinting at a harmful interaction between HPV and cigarette smoke.
The researchers also studied genomic data from 613 samples to confirm their findings.
What Does This Mean for Us?
These lab studies offer us a starting point to better understand what happens when smoking and HPV interact.
Although the lab environment is artificial, the results can guide further research in more complex models. This could eventually lead to better prevention and treatment strategies.
For instance, the HPV vaccination is currently only available for children aged 9-14 in Brazil’s national health service.
However, considering the growing link between HPV and head and neck cancers, it might be worthwhile to consider expanding the age group for HPV vaccinations.
The next steps in this research would be to create more complex models and to consider other factors like inflammatory processes, which play a crucial role in disease outcomes but can’t be seen in lab studies.
In conclusion, the deadly duo of smoking and HPV poses a significant risk for head and neck cancers.
Understanding this interaction could lead to better prevention strategies and ultimately save lives. It’s another reason to say no to smoking and yes to HPV vaccinations.
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