People infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV) have a threefold increased risk of developing the most common type of esophageal cancer, according to a new analysis.
Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma is usually diagnosed at a late state and therefore has a very high death rate. It is the sixth leading cause of cancer death worldwide.
The esophagus is the tube leading from the throat to the stomach. Leading causes of this particular type of cancer include smoking, alcohol use, drinking extremely hot liquids, eating lots of red meat and possibly environmental toxins in the diet, according to study authors.
"HPV is another factor which we can add to a long list of causes," study lead author Surabhi Liyanage, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of New South Wales, in Australia, said in a university news release.
The findings, published July 24 in the journal PLoS ONE, could prove important for vaccination programs worldwide, the study authors said.
"This is an important new finding which resolves a previous uncertainty," study senior author Raina MacIntyre, a professor and head of the university's School of Public Health and Community Medicine, said in the news release.
"Given that the most common two cervical-cancer-causing HPVs are now preventable by early vaccination, this may be significant in countries where (esophageal squamous cell carcinoma) is frequently found," she said.
"In China, it is one of the leading causes of cancer death, so Chinese health authorities could consider this in any deliberations they are having about potential benefits of HPV vaccination in their population," MacIntyre said.
HPV vaccinations currently are used most commonly in young people in developed countries to prevent cervical cancer. But recent research has shown that HPV causes some head and neck cancers, in addition to cervical, anal and genital cancers, according to the news release.
Although the study found a link between HPV infection and risk of esophageal cancer, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.
The US National Cancer Institute has more about esophageal cancer.