Background: Human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV-16) infection is an important cause of cervical cancer, other anogenital cancers and, possibly, some oral and pharyngeal cancers. The association of HPV-16 with oesophageal and with prostate cancers has not been firmly established.
Methods: We analysed sera from 3,757 HIV seronegative black South Africans using an anti-HPV IgG enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). The subjects were recruited from 1995 to 2000 as part of an ongoing cancer case control study. Cases were patients with newly diagnosed cancers of the cervix (n = 946), other anogenital organs (n = 80), the oral cavity and pharynx (n = 102), the oesophagus (n = 369) or the prostate (n = 205). The comparison group consisted of 2,055 age and sex-matched patients randomly selected from the same data base, diagnosed at the same hospitals, but with a vascular disease or with a cancer unrelated to HPV infection. Subjects' sera were randomly and blindly allocated onto ELISA plates. Optical density (OD) levels of anti-HPV-16 IgG of > 0.45 and > or = 0.767 were taken to be cut-offs for negative, medium and high antibody levels.
Results: After adjustment for potential confounders, cancer types that showed a statistically significant association with increased anti-HPV-16 IgG antibody (Ab) levels were cancer of the cervix (OR for medium Ab levels = 1.6, and for high = 2.4, p < 0.0001), cancers of other anogenital organs (OR for medium or high Ab levels = 2.5, p = 0.002), and cancer of the oesophagus (OR for medium Ab = 1.3, and high Ab levels = 1.6 p = 0.002). Cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx showed a borderline significant association in the unadjusted model (p = 0.05) but after adjustment for confounding the trend in relation to Ab levels was positive but not statistically significant (OR for medium Ab = 1.1, and high Ab = 1.5 p = 0.13). Prostate cancer was not associated with HPV-16 seropositivity (OR for medium Ab level = 1.4, and for high Ab level = 1.3, p = 0.3).
Conclusion: If there is indeed an association between HPV-16 and oesophageal and possibly also some oral cavity and pharyngeal cancers, then emerging HPV vaccines may also reduce, at least in part, the incidence of these leading cancer types.