Originally published 2/20/2022
The latest update on HPV (human papillomavirus or genital warts) concerns HPV as a potential cause of prostate cancer (PCa) based on detecting the DNA of the virus in blood samples.
The authors of a 2023 paper detected the presence of the HPV virus in some men with prostate cancer (PCa) vs. a control group without PCa.
They analyzed blood samples from 150 men, of whom 100 had PCa while 50 did not. They used laboratory methods to extract viral DNA. They found that none of the control cases were infected with HPV, while 10% of those with PCa carried the virus.
They wrote, “The analysis of the data made it possible to establish a correlation between the frequency of the viral infection of the human papilloma and the tumoral criteria.”
Thus, they concluded that infection with HPV may be involved as a cofactor of PCa development, and may play a role in eventual metastasis.[i]
However, there are different HPV strains and some may be more associated with PCa than others.
For example, a recent review of published articles found that the HPV-16 variant appeared to pose a PCa risk but not the HPV-18 variant.[ii] More research is needed.
Genital warts are considered the most common sexually transmitted disease. They are caused by the same virus – the human papillomavirus or HPV—as warts on the hand. Both men and women can spread and receive genital warts through sexual contact, and in many cases the warts are so small or hidden (as in the vagina) that one partner may not even realize he or she has them. However, they are still contagious. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that roughly 80 million Americans currently have HPV, with 14 million becoming newly infected annually. According to the CDC website, “HPV infections are so common that nearly all men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.”
HPV and cancer
Two factors have put a spotlight on genital warts:
- They can cause over 90% of cervical cancers in women. Most types of HPV do not cause cervical cancer, but two high-risk forms (HPV-16 and HPV-18) are thought to cause over 70% of cervical cancer.
- Genital HPV is preventable by vaccine, and if the warts are prevented, so is cancer. Thus, cervical cancer is a preventable disease.
Women are not the only ones in harm’s way from HPV, especially HPV-16. In men, the virus has been connected with cancer of the penis in men, and bladder cancer in both men and women. Since sexual contact spreads the virus, sexual practices can determine the location of infection that can lead to cancer; both men and women can develop cancer of the anus as well as the back of the throat.
HPV and prostate cancer
Numerous studies have found an association between HPV and prostate cancer (PCa). A 2011 review of 25 published studies did not find statistics that supported a causal role, there was evidence of HPV-16 DNA in many PCa cases.[iii]
Eight years later, Moghoofei, et al. (2019) analyzed a pool of studies comprising 5546 PCa cases and statistically established a “significant positive association” between HPV infection and PCa risk.[iv]
Now, two researchers from the University of New South Wales, Australia have even more conclusive evidence that HPV, particularly HPV-16, can play a causal role in the development of PCa.[v] As in the two previous papers, they conducted a literature search and statistical analysis of 26 studies already in publication. In addition to demographic patterns, Lawson & Glenn identified high risk HPVs in 22.6% of 1284 prostate cancers, and in 8.6% of 1313 normal or benign prostate controls. They also connected HPVs with inflammatory prostatitis at the start of a chain of activity leading to benign prostate hyperplasia and later PCa. They explain that the action of HPVs on prostate tissue differs from its effect on cervical tissue, noting that HPV infections may directly initiate the cell mutations from normal to cancer, or may indirectly influence it through certain enzymes. There may even be a collaborative action between HPV and other disease organisms that results in PCa.
A news story about Lawson & Glenn’s work notes, “The authors also found that in countries where mortality from cervical cancer was high, mortality from prostate cancer was also high, whereas in countries where mortality from cervical cancer was low, mortality from prostate cancer was also low.”[vi]
The importance of this study is not only its contribution to the body of compelling evidence that genital warts, or more properly, the virus that causes them, is a source of PCa; in addition, the authors emphasize that with the availability of preventive vaccines, a large number of prostate cancers need never occur.
It’s important to keep in mind that the HPV vaccine should be administered to pre-teens, before they become sexually active. The vaccine is most effective before the virus is contracted. Both boys and girls should be vaccinated.
The Sperling Prostate Center acknowledges the work of Lawson & Glenn, and all those before them who recognized that if HPV can cause cervical and other pelvic cancers, it’s likely that prostate cancer would be added to the list. While other disease organisms have also been linked with PCa, HPVs are the only ones that can be warded off. Let’s get it done.
NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.
[i] Sosse SA, Laraqui A, Mrabti M, Alami M et al. Molecular evaluation of human papillomavirus as an oncogenic biomarker in prostate cancer. Mol Biol Rep. 2023 May 22.
[ii] Russo GI, Calogero AE, Condorelli RA, Scalia G et al. Human papillomavirus and risk of prostate cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Aging Male. 2020 Jun;23(2):132-138.
[iii] Lin Y, Mao Q, Zheng X, Yang K et al. Human papillomavirus 16 or 18 infection and prostate cancer risk: a meta-analysis. Ir J Med Sci. 2011 Jun;180(2):497-503.
[iv] Moghoofei M, Keshavarz M, Ghorbani S, Babaei F et a. Association between human papillomavirus infection and prostate cancer: A global systematic review and meta-analysis. Asia Pac J Clin Oncol. 2019 Oct;15(5):e59-e67.
[v] Lawson, J.S., Glenn, W.K. Evidence for a causal role by human papillomaviruses in prostate cancer – a systematic review. Infect Agents Cancer 15, 41 (2020).
[vi] Biomed Central. “Potential Causal Role of Human Papillomaviruses (HPVs) in Prostate Cancer.” MedicalXpress, Jul. 14, 2020.