Skin Cancers Linked to Human Papilloma Wart Virus (HPV)

Recent research shows that both squamous cell skin cancers and actinic keratoses (pre-cancers) are caused by a combination of ultra-violet light exposure and infection with HPV, the Human Papilloma wart virus (Expert Review of Dermatology, April 2010). Some types of HPV are already known to cause cervical, head and neck cancers.

Most, if not all, actinic keratosis cells are infected with HPV (New England Journal of Medicine, May 15, 2003). Dr. Eggert Stockfleth, of the Charité Hospital in Berlin, found specific types of HPV (21, 5, 8, 16 and 18) that convert normal skin to the pre-cancerous actinic keratoses, which may then progress to become squamous cell carcinomas (Disease Markers, April 2007). To block this process before it begins, Dr. Stockfleth and his team are now developing an HPV-specific vaccine designed for the prevention of these skin cancers.

Chronic exposure to ultraviolet light damages DNA in skin cells. Your immunity tries to repair this damage, but the Human Papilloma wart viruses can prevent your immunity from repairing the DNA. Most of the time when your DNA is damaged, the cells die because they have a programmable cell death called apoptosis. However, the HPV virus prevents DNA from healing and also prevents the programmable cell death that would have removed the damaged cells (Cancer Detection and Prevention, June 2001). Then you develop scaly areas and bumps on your skin called actinic keratoses. With further exposure to sunlight, HPV causes these damaged cells that do not die to develop into squamous cell skin cancers that can spread through your body.

I think that the most effective treatment for actinic keratoses is to use a generic version of imiquimod cream (brand name Aldara) that can cost less than $200 for 36 doses. It enhances your immunity so it can better kill the Human Papilloma wart Virus (HPV). It is applied twice a week for 16 weeks, left on the skin for about eight hours and then washed off. Current treatment by most dermatologists is to destroy the lesions with liquid nitrogen or electrocautery. Surgery is rarely needed for actinic keratoses. However, once an actinic keratosis becomes a squamous cell carcinoma, surgeons usually remove the entire cancer. A pathologist usually checks the removed tissue to see that there is a 360-degree margin of non-cancerous skin around the removed cancer.


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