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Conquest - Timeline of Discovery HPV and Oral Cancers

Making the Connection 2001-2008

Timeline of Discovery HPV and Oral Cancers

Date: April 20, 2010

CRF Investigator: Maura Gillison

Conducts the first detailed research of the relationship between HPV and head and neck
cancers and proves that HPV is a cause of certain oral cancers.

Identifies HPV+ head and neck cancer as a distinct molecular, clinical, and pathological
disease associated with improved survival.

Begins study of 100 tonsillar cancer patients and health controls, collecting blood
samples and examining a variety of behaviors, including smoking, drinking, family history,
poor oral hygiene, multiple oral sex partners, and other sexual behaviors that
would increase the potential for HPV exposure.

Begins risk-assessment study of an oral “Pap smear” or oral swab to see if oral infection
with HPV can be detected before cancer develops.

Launches three-pronged attack against oral cancers, conducting research on exposures that lead to HPV infection, new methods of detecting infection, and a therapeutic vaccine.

Clinical trials of a therapeutic vaccine for head and neck cancers begin.

Findings reported in the New England Journal of Medicine show that HPV drives
tonsillar cancers and identifies multiple oral sex partners as the overriding risk factor
for the disease, superseding any other risk factors, including drinking and smoking.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology, the world’s leading organization of
clinical cancer specialists, names Gillison’s HPV and oral cancer research one of the top
cancer advances of 2007.

Identifies HPV infection as the underlying cause of approximately 20,000 of these
cancers and calls for a broader use of HPV vaccines in a Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) report, believed to be the first and most comprehensive assessment of HPV-associated cancer data in the United States.

Finds that simple “swish and spit” oral rinses can successfully track oral HPV
infection over time, opening the door to a potential non-invasive screening test to detect
the disease and monitor for tumor recurrence.



Oral cancers have been steadily on the rise since 1973. While the human
papillomavirus (HPV) had been detected in these cancers for sometime, its role
remained unclear.

Gillison was the first to prove HPV as the cause of certain oral cancers. In addition,
she found the HPV cancers were a distinct subtype of oral cancer which had
higher survival rates. Further research revealed multiple oral sex partners as the
overriding risk factor for the disease.

Gillison finds that currently available HPV vaccines used to prevent cervical cancer
have the potential to reduce the rates of other HPV-associated cancers, like oral
cancers. Broader use of the vaccines, currently given only to girls and young
women, could impact HPV related cancer rates among both men and women.