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Medical News

Researchers Blame HPV for Rise in Throat Cancer

June 11, 2008

In the past two years researchers have proved a link between human papillomavirus and throat cancer. With 6,000 cases per year and an annual increase of up to 10 percent in men younger than 60, some experts say the prevalence of HPV-linked throat cancers could overtake that of cervical cancer, which is also often caused by HPV, in the next decade. The HPV infections likely occurred decades ago and are only now spurring a rise in throat cancer cases.

Changes in sexual practices in the 1960s and 1970s may be a reason for the infections. Oral sex is a known risk factor for HPV-related throat cancers, and studies have shown that people who grew up since the 1950s are more likely to have engaged in oral sex than prior generations.

Last year, a research team led by Maura Gillison at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center found that HPV-positive throat cancer patients tended to have had more sex partners and also were far more likely to have multiple oral sex partners.

The HPV-linked cancers appear somewhat less deadly than throat cancers that arise from smoking or heavy drinking. A study published this year found that 96 percent of HPV-positive throat cancer patients survived at least two years after diagnosis, compared with 62 percent for those with HPV-negative cancers.

Other causes for the spread of HPV cancers may include the increased movement of people both nationally and internationally.

The HPV vaccine may offer protection from HPV-positive throat cancer, though studies have not yet been done to show this. Merck & Co. hopes to submit an application this year seeking Food and Drug Administration approval for use of its HPV vaccine Gardasil by males. "We expect the vaccine to work just as well in male and female populations," said Dr. Richard Haupt of Merck.

Back to other news for June 2008

Adapted from:
Chicago Tribune

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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