Stress May Increase HPV and Cervical Cancer Risk

Sress can reduce the immune system’s ability to resist HPV, a common sexually transmitted disease that may lead to cancer, according to a recent study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. No such association is seen, however, between past major life events, such as divorce or job loss, and the body’s response to the infection.

"HPV infection alone is not sufficient to cause cervical cancer," explained Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Carolyn Y. Fang, Ph.D. "Most HPV infections in healthy women will disappear spontaneously over time. Only a small percentage will progress to become precancerous cervical lesions or cancer."

Women with precancerous cervical lesions were asked to complete a questionnaire detailing their stress in the past month, such as divorced, death of a close family member or job loss. "We were surprised to discover no significant association between the occurrence of major stressful life events and immune response to HPV16. This could be due to the amount of time that has passed since the event occurred and how individuals assess and cope with the event," said Fang.

"Our findings about subjective daily stress told a different story, however. Women with higher levels of perceived stress were more likely to have an impaired immune response to HPV16. That means women who report feeling more stressed could be at greater risk of events that had occurred, such as divorce, death of a close family member or loss of a job.

"We were surprised to discover no significant association between the occurrence of major stressful life events and immune response to HPV16. This could be due to the amount of time that has passed since the event occurred and how individuals assess and cope with the event," said Fang. "Our findings about subjective daily stress told a different story, however. Women with higher levels of perceived stress were more likely to have an impaired immune response to HPV16. That means women who report feeling more stressed could be at greater risk of developing cervical cancer because their immune system can’t fight off one of the most common viruses that causes it."

Fang’s study was funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute.


Source: Annals of Behavioral Medicine (Vol. 17, No. 1)

HPV Vaccine Not Effective for Treating Genital Warts in Women

For women with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, use of the HPV-16/18 vaccine will not accelerate reduction of the virus and should not be used to treat the infection, according to a study in the August 15, 2007 issue of JAMA.

HPV vaccines were designed to prevent HPV infection and the development of cervical precancers and cancer. Some research has suggested that HPV vaccines could help clear the virus in women already infected, according to background information in the article.

Allan Hildesheim, Ph.D., of the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md., and colleagues conducted a study to address the question of whether women positive for HPV DNA should be encouraged to receive HPV-16/18 vaccination to induce or accelerate clearance of their infections. The trial was conducted in two provinces of Costa Rica and included 2,189 women age 18 to 25 years who were positive for HPV DNA. Participants were randomly assigned to receive three doses of HPV-16/18 vaccine (n = 1,088) or a control hepatitis A vaccine (n = 1,101) over 6 months.

There was no evidence that HPV vaccination significantly altered rates of viral clearance. At the 6-month visit, rates of clearance were 33.4 percent vs. 31.6 percent for HPV-16/18 among participants who received the HPV vaccine and the control vaccine, respectively. At the 12-month visit, rates of clearance among participants in the HPV group and the control group, respectively, were 48.8 percent vs. 49.8 percent for HPV-16/18.

There was no evidence of vaccine effects with further analysis on selected study entry characteristics reflective of disease extent, including HPV-16/18 antibody results, cytologic results, and HPV viral load. Similarly, no evidence of vaccine effects was observed in analyses stratified by other study entry parameters thought to potentially influence clearance rates and efficacy of the vaccine, including time since sexual initiation, oral contraceptive use, cigarette smoking, and concomitant infection with Chlamydia trachomatis or Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

"These findings have important clinical implications. For example, in countries where HPV DNA testing is incorporated in cervical cancer screening and prevention efforts, adult women who have abnormal Papanicolaou test results induced by HPV infection and/or who test positive for an oncogenic HPV type using the clinically available HC2 test might be interested in receiving the HPV vaccine to treat their existent infection," the authors write. "…our results demonstrate that in women positive for HPV DNA, HPV-16/18 vaccination does not accelerate clearance of the virus and should not be used for purposes of treating prevalent infections."


Source: JAMA. 2007;298(7):743-753.