He was in his 70s, she in her 80s. Both had had spots of skin cancer identified and removed, and both are the subjects of a very small study published Wednesday in JAMA Dermatology that suggests the HPV vaccine could help protect against certain types of skin cancer. Previous research has suggested a link, at least in people with weakened immune systems, between the human papilloma virus and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs). Those and basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) are the two most common types of skin cancer but are less deadly than No. 3 on that list, per the CDC: melanoma. The intention of this study was to see if the vaccine (whose primary role is to protect against cervical cancer) might offer a protective role against developing new carcinomas in patients with healthy immune systems. The upshot: It looks like it.
The man and woman were given three doses of the HPV vaccine in 2013, and then received full-body skin exams every three months for up to 16 months after first dose. Prior to the vaccinations, the man experienced an average 12 new SCCs and 2.25 new BCCs per year; the woman; 5.5 new SCCs and 0.92 new BCCs. Post-vaccines, neither developed new BCCs, and they experienced 62.5% and 66.5% drops in new SCCs, respectively. "These findings highlight the possibility that cutaneous SCC development, and perhaps BCC development, may be driven in part by HPV," the researchers write. As for how, Live Science reports on one line of thought: that the virus makes it easier for UV rays to damage skin cells. (Alcohol causes seven types of cancer ... at least.)