HPV infection blamed for rise in mouth and throat cancers in US

In collaboration with the Press Association

US researchers have blamed the increasing incidence of oropharyngeal cancers, which mainly affect the tonsil and base of the tongue, on infection with human papillomavirus (HPV).

More than 100 types of HPV exist, some of which cause almost all cases of cervical cancer. Recent research has also provided evidence that some strains, including the cervical cancer-causing HPV-16, are strongly associated with cancers of the mouth and throat.

Head and neck cancers are in general becoming less common in the US thanks to fewer people smoking tobacco, but researchers there have noticed that rates of cancers of the tonsil and the base of the tongue have remained stable.

Writing in the medical journal Cancer, researchers from the University of Texas have attributed this trend, which is particularly noticeable among men under the age of 45, to exposure to HPV-16.

The researchers claimed: "While the cervical cancer and dysplasia prevention policy of HPV16/18 vaccination of young women and adolescent females are commended, we fear that vaccination programmes limited to females will only delay the potential benefit in prevention of HPV16/18 associated oropharyngeal cancers, which typically occur in men."

The researchers are calling for studies to be conducted into the efficacy and safety of HPV vaccines in men and, if successful, the recommendation of vaccination for young adult and adolescent males.