A recent article about HPV – Human Papillomavirus -begins with a question and an answer:
80% or more of cases of cervical cancer show evidence of HPV infection. It was the belief of the pioneer of the study of HPV that, if people looked hard enough, HPV would be found in all cases. By contrast, only 25% of lung cancer cases in the USA show evidence of HPV, while in Japan this figure rises to 80% – the same sort of order as HPV in cervical cancer -.
The jury is still out, but it seems that a great deal of research effort is now going into the viral and bacterial causes of cancer, and the evidence is already looking quite strong. But it raises the question of how the medical establishment will deal with the revelation that lung cancer is caused by a virus, and not by smoking. Are they, for example, going to say, "We were wrong," give tobacco a clean bill of health, and call halt the global persecution of smokers?
One answer is provided by CRUK on cervical cancer. It recognises the primary role of HPV in cervical cancer, but goes on to assert that smoking increases the risk.
But the point of the exercise by CRUK is to retain smoking as an ancillary cause of cervical cancer. And this is probably the line that will be adopted if lung cancer is shown to be caused by HPV. Smoking will be retained as a risk factor. Smokers will be told that they have twice or three times the risk of contracting lung cancer if they smoke. Or some other figure plucked out of the air. Smoking will no longer be the primary cause of lung cancer, but it will continue to be one of the causes.
Another reason why smoking is unlikely to be given a clean bill of health is because it has been indicted as a cause not only of lung cancer, but of heart disease and more or less every other disease that afflicts humanity, including toenail fungus.
In addition, if HPV is found to cause lung cancer, it will simply not be reported in the mainstream media, who are as wedded to the idea that smoking causes lung cancer as they are to the idea that CO2 causes global warming.
So, if HPV is found to cause lung cancer, there will be no let-up in the war on smokers. The justifications for the war will just change subtly, a bit like the reasons for the Iraq war. And the war on smoking is, in the end, a moral crusade rather than a medical crusade. It is part of a century-long War on Drugs. For the righteous, tobacco and alcohol are not essentially different from cannabis and opium and other proscribed drugs. They’ve just two that have managed to evade the forces of law and order so far. In the bright future of the righteous, all will be prohibited. They are most certainly not going to allow changing understandings of the causes of cancer to halt their moral crusade.
Update: Jan 2011 BBC report.
“There are two types or strains of HPV which are most likely to cause cancer – HPV-16 and HPV-18.
HPV-16 is thought to be responsible for around 60% of cervical cancers, 80% of cancers in the anus and 60% of oral cancers.”
Also Is Oral Sex Safe?, a one hour BBC 3 programme.