Human Papillomavirus (HPV) — the sexually-transmitted virus responsible for cervical cancer in thousands of women — has now been implicated in a rapidly increasing rate of mouth and throat cancers among young men. Researchers are hoping that a recently-approved HPV vaccine will soon be approved for boys, and tested for its effectiveness in preventing head and neck cancers. A news article in a recent edition of the Baltimore Sun features Dr. Maura Gillison, an oncologist at Johns Hopkins University’s Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, whose research has been credited with linking the virus and tumors.
According to the article, the head and neck cancers now being linked to HPV have more commonly been identified among older men, often as a result of lifetime tobacco and alcohol abuse. Surgical treatments involving the removal of many facial components have tended to leave victims significantly disfigured. More recent victims of the cancers have tended to be 30 – 40 year-old men rather than senior citizens, and their cancers are frequently attributed to oral HPV infections, mostly acquired through oral sex.
In fact, new research has indicated that HPV-related oral cancer cases will eventually surpass cases of cervical cancer in the United States, if current trends continue. Cervical Cancer strikes about 11,000 women annually, and many physicians still don’t realize that they should monitor for oral cancer in younger patients. Researchers blame changing sexual behavior for the rapidly rising incidence of HPV-related oral cancers, and the fact that many public health campaigns related to AIDS education and safe sex did not regularly include education regarding oral sex — behavior which is also risky. Despite a 5% increase in oral cancer cases each year since 2000, the incidence is still relatively rare, overall. HPV-associated head and neck cancers still currently account for only 6,000 per year. Cervical cancer cases still number fewer than 11,000 annually.
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