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Virus Linked to Throat Cancer Trend

Oral Sex Considered a Risk Factor

Throat Cancer Risk Factors continued...

These cancers are rare, accounting for just 10,000 of the roughly 45,000 head and neck malignancies diagnosed each year in the U.S. But their incidence has remained steady, overall, Sturgis and Cinciripini write, and tongue cancer rates among young adults have increased.

They conclude that this is likely due to HPV infection, spread through oral sex.

Sturgis tells WebMD that over the last five years, 35% of the throat cancer patients treated at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center had no history of smoking and that close to 90% of patients who had never smoked showed evidence of oral infection with HPV.

The HPV Vaccine

In the conclusion of their analysis, the researchers write that vaccinating only females against HPV, which is currently the policy in the U.S., could result in a missed opportunity to prevent throat cancers.

The HPV vaccine is being offered to males in Australia, Mexico, and some other countries, but there is, as yet, no clinical proof that it works to prevent HPV infection in men, says Debbie Saslow, PhD, of the American Cancer Society.

In the U.S. the vaccine, marketed as Gardasil by Merck & Co., is recommended for 11- to 12- year-old girls, and for women up to age 26 who have not received it.

Studies are under way to determine if the vaccine protects boys against genital HPV infection.

“The HPV vaccine is very effective protection against cervical cancer, and there is a good chance that it will reduce the incidence of other types of HPV-promoted cancers as well,” Saslow tells WebMD. “But we have no data to confirm that, and we won’t have any in the near future.”

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