When it comes to the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, (HPV), most of us think of the vaccine, Gardasil, cervical cancer and genital warts. But a recent study is suggesting that we must add "oral cancers" to the list of health concerns.
Researchers from Ohio State University suggest that HPV is now the leading cause of cancers of the throat, mouth and neck. They analyzed 271 tissue samples from the past 20 years and found that HPV-related oral cancer cases in the United States have tripled. Back in 1988, eight out of 1 million Americans were diagnosed with an HPV-related oral cancer. Now that number has increased dramatically — it's 26 out of 1 million.
Previously, tobacco had been the primary cause of oral cancer, and most oral cancer cases were HPV-negative.
[Lead researcher Maura] Gillison's group found that HPV-negative cancers have been cut in half since the 1980s.
HPV-positive cases — which had made up just 16 percent of oral cancer cases in the 1980s — comprised more than 70 percent in the 2000s.
"This whole relationship between HPV-related head and neck cancer completely changes our ideas of who is at risk, how to treat the cancer, the prognostics of the cancer, and prevention," Gillison told Reuters Health.
The good news is that people diagnosed with the HPV-positive form of the cancer have a better prognosis, she said, and the cancer is more responsive to treatment.
There is also a potential opportunity for prevention using an HPV vaccine that is approved to prevent anal and cervical cancer, Gillison said.
HPV is transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual. Transmission is usually from vaginal, oral or anal sexual contact. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of is just how common HPV is.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that almost 20 million Americans are currently infected with it. And best believe that our community is impacted by HPV. While African-Americans’ HPV rates are not as high as whites, we are more likely to die from cancers related to HPV.
To learn more about HPV prevention and testing, go here.
(Photo: REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)