Jan. 26, 2012 -- The human papillomavirus (HPV), which is often sexually transmitted, is responsible for a rapidly growing type of oral cancer. And now new research may help explain why men get the cancer more than women do.
In the first study to examine the prevalence of oral HPV infection nationwide, rates of infection among men were about three times higher than among women.
Men are also three times more likely than women to develop head and neck cancers caused by HPV, says oncologist and researcher Maura L. Gillison, MD, PhD, of Ohio State University.
Gillison and colleagues estimate that about 7% of adults in the U.S. are infected with oral HPV and that the most prevalent type of the virus associated with oral infection is HPV-16 -- the same sexually transmitted viral strain that causes a significant percentage of cervical cancers.
The study was published online today in the Journal of the American Medical Association to coincide with its presentation at the Multidisciplinary Head and Neck Cancer Symposium in Phoenix, Ariz.
“By 2020, there will be more HPV-positive oral cancers among men than cervical cancers among women in the U.S., and right now we don’t even have a way to screen for them,” Gillison says.
Less than a decade ago, tobacco and alcohol were believed to cause most oropharyngeal cancers -- a type of oral cancer that mostly affects the base of the tongue and the back of the mouth, including the tonsils -- that mostly strike older men who are heavy smokers and drinkers.
HPV infection is now known to cause a subset of the cancer that is increasingly diagnosed in the United States. The cancer is not closely related to tobacco and alcohol use and is most common among younger, white men.
Oral HPV Often Sexually Transmitted
In an effort to better understand oral HPV infection and how it impacts head and neck cancer risk, Gillison and colleagues analyzed mouth-rinse samples from a group of people between the ages of 14 to 69 who participated in a 2009-2010 national health survey.