Viral Vexation

Virus linked to common skin cancer

A virus discovered in a rare skin cancer also has been found in people with the second most common form of skin cancer among Americans.

Researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute examined tissue samples from 58 people with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and identified the virus in more than a third of them and in 15 percent of the tumors tested. All of the virus in tumor cells had a mutation that could enable viral DNA to integrate into host cell DNA.

“This is indirect evidence that the virus might play a role in causing some cases of SCC,” says principal investigator Amanda Toland, PhD, an OSUCCC-James researcher.

The virus was first discovered in patients with Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare, aggressive skin cancer that occurs mainly in the elderly and people with suppressed immune systems. “Originally we thought this virus caused only this rare skin cancer, but our findings indicate it is more prevalent than that,” Toland says.

To learn if people with SCC harbored the virus, Toland and colleagues examined DNA samples from SCC tumors, normal skin adjacent to the tumor, white blood cells and cells washed from the mouth.

They detected the virus in 26 of 177 SCC samples, 11 of 63 skin samples, and one mouthwash sample. They found no viral DNA in blood samples from 57 patients. In all, 36 percent of SCC patients tested positive for the virus. Sequencing viral DNA from 31 samples revealed that the same mutation was present in all the viruses from tumors and in 60 percent of the viruses from adjacent healthy-looking tissue.

Published in the June 25, 2009 issue of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 

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