(CBS) Human papillomavirus has been tied to deadly cancers, including cervical and throat cancer. Now a study has linked HPV to a disease that takes even more American lives - heart disease.
It suggests that people who have HPV are more than twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
For the study - published in the Oct. 24 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology - researchers studied 2,500 women 20 to 59 years of age. Of these women, nearly half were found to be infected with HPV - with more than half of those women having a strain tied to cancer. Women with the cancer-causing strains had nearly 3 times more risk for having a heart attack or stroke. Women with non-cancerous HPV strains had double the risk. The risk persisted, even after risk factors including obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure and cholesterol, were accounted for.
"Nearly 20 percent of individuals with cardiovascular disease do not show any risk factors, indicating that other 'nontraditional' causes may be involved in the development of the disease," study author Dr. Ken Fujise, director of the division of cardiology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, said in a written statement. "HPV appears to be one such factor among women."
Now that scientists have linked HPV to heart disease, what does this mean for patients?
Fujise said the study could cause doctors to monitor patients with cancer-associated HPV, to prevent heart attack and stroke. Doctors should also monitor HPV patients who have already been diagnosed with heart disease, to minimize the risk for future heart attacks and strokes, Fujise said.
The study could also lead to another use for an already controversial vaccine.
"The HPV vaccine may also help prevent heart disease," Fujise said.
What does the study mean for men? The authors said in the statement that since the analysis was limited to women, more research is needed to determine if HPV is a risk factor for heart disease in men.
Experts have lauded the research.
"It is great that researchers are thinking out of the box to assess cardiovascular risk in women," Dr. Nieca Goldberg, director of the women's heart program at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City, told HealthDay. "This would be an additional tool for doctors to assess a women's cardiovascular risk. It would also get younger women to take their hearts seriously."
In the U.S., one in four women die from heart disease. The # 1 killer in both sexes, heart disease takes more than 631,000 lives each year. Every year about 785,000 Americans suffer their first heart attack.
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has more on heart disease in women.