Throat Cancer and HPV: March 14, 2017
New studies show throat and neck cancers are on the rise. But unlike most cancers, doctors say the most common cause isn’t genetics or lifestyle, but a virus that’s typically known for causing cervical cancer in women.
Dr. Anthony Anfuso, an oncologist on staff with Lee Health, says it’s becoming a common diagnosis. “We’re seeing a lot of younger people who are non-smokers actually get this type of cancer and the reason in those people often times is a virus called HPV.”
The human papillomavirus is the same virus that causes cervical cancer in women. Now, doctors say the sexually transmitted virus is also responsible for throat and neck cancer in men and women. “One difference between HPV induced oral cancer and cervical cancer is that there are screening tests, there are pap smears for women, to try to pick up premalignant lesions. Unfortunately, for oral cancer that has not been developed yet,” said Dr. Anfuso.
But there is good news. Patients who are diagnosed with HPV oral cancer have a higher chance of survival. “Someone who has an HPV negative oral cancer, which again is a cancer of the tonsil or the back of the tongue, their 5 year survival rate is 35 to 45 percent. If you have a HPV positive tumor it actually jumps to 90 percent for a patient who is a nonsmoker,” said Dr. Anfuso.
Doctors say that’s because HPV has not been found to be an aggressive cancer. Radiation and chemotherapy are common treatments for oral cancer. “The fact of the matter is, probably over 90 percent of the population has been exposed to the HPV virus, even the high risk HPV virus. Most people will clear the infection and never develop symptoms,” said Dr. Anfuso.
But those who don’t are at risk for developing oral cancer, making it important to notify your doctor about any changes or pain.