Throat cancer in men could be linked to HPV
In a new study from Ohio State University and the National Cancer Institute, the HPV virus is found to have caused the numbers of throat cancer in men to increase sharply in the last two decades. The incidence of orpharyngeal cancer has gone up 28 percent since 1988, which equates to an extra 10,000 cases of cancer per year.
If the numbers continue to rise so quickly, throat cancer will surpass cervical cancer as the No. 1 HPV-related cancer within 10 years, the researchers said in their report, which will be published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
"There is an urgency to try to figure out how to prevent this," said Dr. Amy Chen of the American Cancer Society.
Though the researchers aren’t sure why, they said the incidence of throat cancer as related to HPV in men is higher than in women.
For the study, the researchers used stored tissue from subjects in Hawaii, Iowa and Los Angeles. The 271 subjects all had tissue stored from tumors, and the tissue samples dated back to 1988. The portion of those who had HPV was 16 percent in the late ‘80s and rose to nearly 73 percent by the early 2000s.
Prior to HPV being the main cause of the cancer that caused these tumors, tobacco and alcohol use had been the main cause. The tumors that were tested occurred in the tonsils, base of the tongue and upper throat. Many studies that have been done on the subject over the past few years show that oral sex is the leading contributor to this kind of throat cancer, and tobacco use has dropped off recently.
The controversial vaccine Gardasil has been on the market for several years, though many parents and advocates object to it based on the fact that early on, it was linked to several deaths. In addition, some parents say it creates the assumption their children are engaging in sexual behavior when they are not. The vaccine has been approved for men to prevent HPV and to guard against anal cancer but has not been approved by the FDA for throat cancer prevention. Proponents of the vaccine and Merck representatives say the vaccine is safe.
Dr. Robert Haddad, clinical director of the Head and Neck Oncology Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said people need to take oral cancer seriously in terms of risk.
"The idea that oral sex is risk-free is not correct. It comes with significant risks, and developing cancer is one of them," he said in a 2007 interview with Time magazine. "There's no question that the debate needs to go further than where it is now. Men are carriers and that is one way of transmitting this virus."