Alarming rise in throat cancer linked to HPV

By Sheryl Kay • Published: January 23rd, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is now the most common sexually transmitted disease in America. Beyond the troublesome genital warts HPV causes, the virus has also been linked with triggering cervical cancer, which prompted researchers to develop a vaccine to prevent that strain of HPV.

Now, a new study shows that there is also a direct connection between HPV and oral cancer, with cases rising at such an alarming rate that the incidences of HPV-caused oral cancers will far surpass cervical cancers in the near future.

Published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the study reviewed data from three states that contribute information to an oral cancer incidence database. Researchers indentified reports of 271 tumors and found that the rate of HPV-related cancers increased from 16 percent during the mid 1980s, to almost 72 percent about 10 years ago. That translates to a 225 percent increase in this type of cancer.

Researchers could not be sure why the upsurge has been so dramatic, but they did note that sexual behaviors have changed, with sexual encounters happening earlier in life. Another troublesome trend is that people now seem to have many more sex partners in general, too. As morays continue to change, this number may even increase, thereby intensifying the likelihood that HPV-related cancers will multiply further.

Since the study did not investigate the effectiveness of the current HPV vaccine in regard to oral cancer, it is not known if the product now on the market to help prevent HPV-related cervical cancer will work for oral cancer as well. While additional studies are needed to address this, the researchers do have one tip for people who want to avoid getting an HPV infection and upping their risk for oral cancer … Practice safe sex.