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What Is HPV of the Throat?

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  • Written By: Jo Dunaway
  • Edited By: S. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease often discussed in relation to cervical cancer in women. In recent studies, however, HPV has been found to be a cause of throat cancers, head and neck cancers, and oropharyneal cancers due to oral sex transmission. The particular strain of HPV known as HPV-16, known to be one of two HPV strains said to be a root cause of cervical cancer, was found to be the same strain causing these mouth and throat cancers. In HPV of the throat, another factor in the studies that surprised medical professionals was finding that oral sex was a bigger instigator of risk than smoking, alcohol, and drug usage, in not one, but several studies.

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As many young people reportedly opt to engage in oral sex practices as a way of preserving “technical virginity,” the instances of HPV of the throat have been increasing. The incidences of HPV tonsil and tongue cancers are heavier in men than women and men are at greater risk as the HPV vaccines are currently available only to women. The top risk factor was in those who have had multiple oral sex partners, as they are three times more likely to develop HPV of the throat, which can progress to cancer. In a study of throat tumors, it was found that six or more oral sex partners increase cancer likelihood eightfold. In those who showed sign of previous HPV infections, the odds rose to 32 times more likely to develop one or more oral cancer or throat cancer diagnoses.

Some may argue that oral sex is not sex per se and, for that reason, think they are not engaging in risky behavior. Because so many know little or nothing about the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, they may not realize that the mucosa of the mouth and throat are just as apt to culture viruses that lead to cancer as the vagina or anus. Since HPV of the throat is silent initially, it incubates in the back of the throat and advances in stages quickly, similar to cancer of the cervix. HPV throat cancer has spread at such a rate that it is now the main cause of throat cancer in both men and women under the age of 50.

HPV of the throat, in recent studies in 2010, was found to be a stronger factor than heavy smoking and alcohol usage for developing oropharyngeal cancers, which comprise about 25 percent of head and neck cancers in the U.S. A study at John Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center found that the two greatest risk factors for head and neck tumors tied to HPV were risky oral sex and marijuana use, rather than tobacco or alcohol. The reason for marijuana usage being a risk factor that cannabinoids in marijuana suppress the body’s immune system.

Some small studies have found that possibly these HPV of the throat cancers may be of slightly higher survival figures; further studies are being considered to find if this is indeed true. The figures in the small studies showed an 83 percent survival rate of those with HPV-positive tumors. The figures for the HPV-negative tumors, after the same radiation and chemotherapy treatments, were at 57.1 percent survivors.

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