Head & Neck
HPV-Related Oral Cancer on the Rise
About one in 14 Americans carries a sexually transmitted virus in their mouths and throats that can spread to other people and cause head and neck cancers. This surprising statistic came out in the Journal of the American Medical Association this year as part of a groundbreaking study about the human papillomavirus, or HPV.
About 50,000 people are diagnosed with head and neck cancers every year, and can involve the lips, mouth, tongue, throat and voice box. Not all cases of head and neck cancer are caused by HPV. In the past, most oral cancers have been attributed to tobacco use, such as smoking and chewing tobacco, and drinking alcohol.
But a growing number of these cancers are being traced to HPV. For example, the incidence of HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancer has increased in the past two decades, especially among men. The National Cancer Institute estimates that by 2020, HPV will cause more oropharyngeal cancers than cervical cancers in the U.S.
Oropharynx cancer affects the back part of the mouth and tonsils down to the middle part of the throat. About 8,000 people die from it every year.
The most common type of HPV found in people’s mouths, according to the study, is HPV-16, a strain that is especially likely to cause cancer. Researchers estimated that 2.13 million Americans have oral HPV-16. Men are more likely to have the infection — 10.1 percent of men tested positive for it versus 3.6 percent of women.
“A better understanding of the association between HPV and head and neck cancer is exciting,” says Dr. Jeff VanDeusen, PhD, MD., an oncologist at Adena Health Systems. “But still, the most exciting advance in this field has been the development of a vaccine for HPV, that may be effective at preventing these types of cancers.”
To prevent HPV in the future, the Centers for Disease Control now recommends vaccinating boys and girls at 11 or 12 years old. Talk to your physician or learn more about the vaccination series.
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