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New Skin Cancer Treatment

Injections of HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) vaccine into the multiple squamous and basal cell skin cancers of a 90-year-old lady got rid of all the cancers in 11 months (JAMA Dermatol, Jun 1, 2017;153(6):571-574). This is just one of many studies showing that some skin cancers can be cured by boosting a person's immunity against the HPV viruses.

At one time or other, more than 70 percent of North Americans are infected with HPV, a class of more than 200 different viruses (Journal of Infectious Diseases, July 15, 2014). Infected people may have no symptoms at all, or they may develop a single wart or up to hundreds of warts on their skin, or genital burning or itching. The majority of people with warts will have their own immunity get rid of the warts in one or two years with no treatment whatever. Doctors have known for more than 30 years that they can cure warts by injecting the HPV vaccine directly into the warts. A small percentage of infected people go on to develop cancer of the skin, cervix, vulva, uterus, vagina, penis, anus, rectum, mouth, tongue, tonsils, throat or lymph nodes.

The Study
A 90-year-old woman with many inoperable squamous cell skin cancers was given two doses of HPV vaccine injected into her muscles, six weeks apart. Three weeks after the second injection, a diluted HPV vaccine was injected into three of the largest tumors. She returned three more times over the next eight months to have other skin cancers injected with the dilute HPV vaccine. She received no surgery to remove the skin cancers. Eleven months after her first visit, all of the skin cancers were gone, even the ones that were not injected. A follow up visit two years later showed no return of the skin cancers.

HPV and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers
The two most common types of skin cancers are basal cell and squamous cell. Squamous cell skin cancers are far more likely than basal cell cancers to spread through the body. Doctors have known for more than 40 years that both sunlight and exposure to the HPV viruses can cause skin cancers (J Sex Transm Dis, Sep 21, 2015), and 83 percent of patients with non-melanoma skin cancers have HPV virus genetic material in their tumors (Br J Dermatol, Jul 2003 ;149(1):64-73). People with the highest number of different HPV viruses are the ones most likely to develop squamous cell skin cancers (J Natl Cancer Inst, 2006 Mar 15;98(6):389-95). Previous studies have shown that immunization against the HPV viruses helps to cure skin cancers in immuno-compromised people who have decreased ability to kill germs (JAMA Dermatol, Jun 1, 2017;153(6):571-574).

Other Non-Surgical Treatments of Warts and Skin Cancers
When a person is infected with viruses, his cells produce large amounts of interferon to help kill the virus. Warts are caused by HPV viruses, and doctors have been curing warts for more than 40 years by injecting interferon into them (JAAD, September 1986;15(3):437–443). In one study, injections of interferon into skin cancers cured up to 70 percent of basal cell skin cancers (BMJ, Oct 2, 2003;327:794). Imiquimod 5% cream also increases a person's immunity and ability to kill viruses, and many reports show that it has cured warts on the skin (JAAD, May 2001;44(5):807-813). This cream has been shown to cure some cases of squamous and basal cell skin cancers (Cutis, Mar 2007;79(3):241-8).

My Recommendations
Today the standard treatment for skin cancers is for a dermatologist or surgeon to remove them. However, even after surgical removal, squamous cell skin cancers can spread through the body with catastrophic results. Evidence is accumulating that injections of a vaccine against the HPV viruses directly into a skin cancer or just into the arm muscles may be able to cure both basal and squamous cell skin cancers. This treatment is not yet recommended as the primary treatment for skin cancers because doctors are concerned about long-term results and potential unknown side effects. The main reason that most doctors will not use immune treatments for skin cancer is that they claim that they would have to follow up to see if the cancer is gone using the same type of surgery they would have used to remove the cancer (Moh’s surgery). However, for people who have multiple cancers or squamous cell skin cancers that have spread, the HPV vaccine may be a reasonable treatment plan.

July 15th, 2018
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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