The human papillomavirus (HPV) has been implicated as a cause of cervical cancer in women, but there’s another devastating form of cancer also linked to HPV infection : head and neck cancer : and almost no one is talking about it.
â€œRight now I think the public and most physicians have no idea that HPV relates to head and neck cancer,”said Dell Yarbrough, M.D., Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center surgical oncologist.”In cancers of the oropharynx, which includes the tonsils, the base of the tongue, and part of the throat, about half of those tumors are HPV-positive. In the oral cavity, between 10 and 15 percent of tumors test positive for HPV, although here at Vanderbilt-Ingram we’re seeing up to 20 percent.”
HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates nearly 6.2 million new genital HPV cases occur in the United States each year. Now researchers have documented a rise in some types of head and neck cancer related to HPV, especially cancer in the tonsils. The spike in tonsillar cancer coincides with reported changes in sexual habits among young people, including earlier age of sexual activity and an increase in oral sex. …
… There are more than 100 subtypes of HPV. Types 16 and 18 usually are implicated in cervical cancer.
Those are the same subtypes often found in HPV-positive head and neck cancers. Gardasil : a new vaccine approved last year : is effective against those HPV subtypes but the vaccine is only approved for use in girls and women ages 9 to 26.
The discovery of a link between the virus and head and neck cancer raises the possibility of vaccinating young men.
â€œI think it’s reasonable to think about vaccinating both young men and women because of the risk of head and neck cancer,”Yarbrough said.