The research led by University of California, Los Angeles has shown that HPV allows infected cervical and head and neck cancer cells to maintain internal molecular conditions that make the cancers resistant to therapy.
The researchers hope that the findings may lead to the development of new therapies that target the cell-signalling pathway, thereby interrupting ability of the cancer cells to thrive.
The study was conducted on cells in culture and animal models.
"There is potential for therapeutic intervention based on this finding," said Dr. Matthew Rettig, senior author of the study and a researcher at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Centre.
"The virus appears to be regulating the expression of genes that control all of the characteristics of hypoxic tumours, those that promote survival, drug resistance and the spread of the cancers.
"It's good for the tumour, bad for the patient," he added.
The HPV virus expresses a protein called E6, which targets a cell signalling pathway called NF-?B, heightening its activation.
The finding was further confirmed when cervical and head and neck cancers, not caused by HPV, did not have heightened activation of the pathway.
"The cells had to have the virus to have the activation," said Rettig.
The next step for Rettig and his team is to confirm the findings in additional animal models to gain broader understanding of the potential correlation of hypoxia and activation of the cell signalling pathway in humans.
The study has been published in journal Cancer Cell.