Investigation of three oncogenic epitheliotropic viruses shows human papillomavirus in association with non-melanoma skin cancer


Non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSC) share similar risk factors with other virus-related cancers, despite the lack of proved causal association between viral infection and NMSC development. We investigated the presence of Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA in 83 NMSC fresh-frozen and 16 non-cancerous skin biopsies and evaluated viral infection according to demographical data, histopathological diagnosis, and ultraviolet exposure. Our results showed that 75% of NMSC biopsies were positive for at least one out of three viruses, whereas only 38% of non-cancerous skin biopsies were positive (p = 0.02). Notably, HPV detection was frequent in NMSC (43%) and nearly absent (one sample, 6.7%) in non-cancerous biopsies (p = 0.007). MCPyV was associated with sites of higher exposure to ultraviolet radiation (p = 0.010), while EBV was associated with a compromised immune system (p = 0.032). Our study showed that HPV was strongly associated with NMSC while EBV and MCPyV with other risk factors. Though further studies are required to elucidate the role of viral infection in NMSC development and management, this study supports the possible role of oncogenic viruses in skin cancers, especially HPV.

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This paper has been partially supported by FAPERJ (Rio de Janeiro Research Foundation). This study was also financed in part by the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior—Brasil (CAPES)—Finance Code 001.

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Correspondence to Rafael Brandão Varella.

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The authors declare that they haveno conflict of interest.

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The study was approved by the University Hospital Ethical Committee (protocol 608.880/2014). Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Baez, C.F., Gonçalves, M.T.V., da Rocha, W.M. et al. Investigation of three oncogenic epitheliotropic viruses shows human papillomavirus in association with non-melanoma skin cancer. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis 38, 1129–1133 (2019).

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  • Skin cancer
  • Oncogenic viruses
  • Viral detection
  • Biopsy