American Association for Cancer Research

Press Releases: 2009

HPV Infection May Be Linked to Poor Head and Neck Cancer Survival Rates in African Americans


July 29, 2009

American Association for Cancer Research Hosts Press Conference on New Study

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PHILADELPHIA - A groundbreaking study in Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, suggests that having the human papillomavirus (HPV) improves survival in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck. Furthermore, African Americans had far less HPV infection than whites, which led to worse survival.

"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," said senior author 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.

Cullen's research showed that median overall survival was more than threefold higher for whites (70.6 months) than for African Americans (20.9 months) who were treated with chemotherapy and radiation. When the researchers examined patients by HPV status, they found that HPV-negative patients had a median survival of 26.6 months, while the survival rate for HPV-positive patients could not be calculated because most were still alive.

Overall, 4 percent of African American patients and 34 percent of white patients were HPV positive. Cullen said the survival difference was entirely due to HPV status, as survival rates were similar among HPV-negative patients.

Scott Lippman, M.D., chair of the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and editor-in-chief of Cancer Prevention Research called the study "practice changing."

"Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck is one of the fastest growing cancers, and this study gives us a new way to assess prognosis for our patients," said Lippman.

The American Association for Cancer Research hosted a teleconference to report and discuss these findings on Wednesday, July 29, 2009. The following preeminent scientists participated in the press conference (click on the links below to download high resolution photos of the panelists):

Scott Lippman, M.D.
Professor and Chair - Dept. of Thoracic/Head & Neck Medical Oncology
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Editor-in-Chief, Cancer Prevention Research

Kevin Cullen, M.D.
Director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center
University of Maryland

Otis Brawley, M.D.
Chief Medical Officer
American Cancer Society

Martin Blaser, M.D.
Professor and Chairman in the Department of Medicine
New York University Langhorne Medical Center


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The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes more than 28,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and nearly 90 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care. The AACR publishes six major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention; and Cancer Prevention Research. The AACR also publishes CR, a magazine for cancer survivors and their families, patient advocates, physicians and scientists. CR provides a forum for sharing essential, evidence-based information and perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship and advocacy.

Media Contact:
Jeremy Moore
267-646-0557
jeremy.moore@aacr.org