Sexually Transmitted HPV Linked To Head, Neck Cancers

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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Researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) in Buffalo, New York, are strongly advocating a national discussion about the need to vaccinate both young men and women against HPV 16 to prevent head & neck cancers.

The call comes amid growing evidence that certain cancers of the head and neck are strongly linked to HPV 16, a specific strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the United States.

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It is estimated that approximately 70% of Americans, both men and women, will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives. The types of cancer associated with HPV 16 occur mostly at the back (base) of the tongue, in the tonsils, and in the soft palate at the back of the throat.

Over the past 10 years, members of RPCI's Head & Neck Department have seen a threefold increase in the number of throat cancers they treat. In 2007, Roswell Park researchers began testing all head and neck tumours treated at the Buffalo-based comprehensive cancer center for the presence of HPV DNA.

Data from the ongoing testing have been combined with data from archived tumour samples to provide a clearer picture of how many head and neck cancers treated at RPCI test positive for HPV. To date, the total is around 50 to 60 percent.

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