Links to Head and Neck Cancer from HPV Virus

Over the past several decades, there has been a significant increase of men with oropharyngeal cancer, or cancer of the head, neck, or throat. Studies showed a 300% increase among men in the past forty years.

Doctors began to research what was causing the influx of this disease and found a common thread amongst many of the patients, human papillomavirus or HPV. Cancer is not carried in all types of HPV, however it is found in oral HPV, which was discovered to be six times more common in men than women. Making this discovery through their research has allowed doctors to understand this type of cancer better and develop new ways of effectively treating it.

So how does a virus cause cancer?

Viruses can’t duplicate their own cells; instead they mix their DNA with healthy cells in your body and essentially take over and tell the cell to continuously reproduce. This is what can lead to cancer in the body.

Luckily, doctors have figured out ways to effectively treat HPV related cancer. Doctors have found it crucial to test tumors through a biopsy so they know if it was caused by HPV. If it is caused by HPV, then the tumor will show different proteins on the surface.

Once they determine that the tumor was caused by HPV, they proceed with the treatment protocol that has proved effective in 90% of patients with HPV related oropharyngeal cancer.

Doctors have found that surgical removal of the tumor and a couple weeks of chemotherapy is more effective than the traditional method, which consists of 6-7 weeks of chemotherapy, surgery, and return chemo treatments. Many doctors have wondered why HPV related head and neck cancer is easier to treat than traditional oropharyngeal cancer. They don’t exactly know why, but they have a few theories. Traditional head and neck cancer is usually caused by carcinogen from cigarettes or alcohol. These carcinogens weaken the immune system and make the cancer much harder to treat. With HPV related cases, the immune system is able to fight the virus more effectively because it was not damaged by the overuse of alcohol and cigarettes. Another theory is that the immune system’s main purpose is to fight viruses throughout the body, so it is able to target and fight the virus easily.

Medical professionals have made it a priority to spread awareness about the risks of HPV leading to cancer, especially in men. They also urge those currently diagnosed with head or neck cancer to check for HPV because the treatment is completely different and can save a patient time, money, and can reduce the amount of chemotherapy treatment needed. There are screenings that can be done to find out if you have HPV, however it is harder to find high risk HPV that could lead to cancer. Luckily, there is a vaccine that is available to help protect against HPV and oral cancers. Speak to your doctor about your options regarding vaccinations for yourself or for your family. Taking these steps is strongly recommended because it can significantly reduce your chances of getting HPV and even cancer.