Dr. Nicolau's team will explore a new idea to understand how people develop cancer in the mouth and throat, often called "head and neck cancer" (H&NC). This cancer can deeply affect how people swallow, eat, drink, talk, and look and only about half of people diagnosed with it are still alive after five years. This cancer is mainly caused by smoking and drinking, but recent discoveries showed that a family of viruses called human papillomaviruses (HPVs) are also involved. HPVs are responsible for a substantial increase in H&NC, mainly those in an area at the back of the mouth called the oropharynx. There are many types of HPVs categorized into three kinds: alpha, beta, and gamma. Until now, only alpha HPVs have been studied to understand their role in the development of H&NC.
However, a few recent studies suggest that the other two kinds of HPVs could also increase the risk of this cancer.
Our project will examine if beta and gamma HPVs are linked to H&NC. To do so, we have interviewed Quebecers with and without cancer and collected cells from their mouths and tumours. We will test these cells to find out if beta and gamma HPVs are present. Then, we will combine this information with other data to find out if these HPVs are related to H&NC.
This project will give us new information on the links between HPVs and H&NC. This information is necessary to plan more studies focusing on H&NC prevention and treatment. For example, our results can help to evaluate if patients' response to treatment depends on whether they are infected with a virus or a combination of viruses. We also expect that this information will help cancer prevention programs by improving existing vaccines.