Researchers in New Orleans report that the incidence of head and neck cancer has risen at sites associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. The biggest increase is being seen among middle-aged white men. They also found that the disease process for tumors associated with HPV is different from those caused by exposure to tobacco and alcohol, with implications for treatment. The health news is published this month in “PLoS ONE.”
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Tobacco and alcohol are the most common risk factors for cancers of the head and neck, but HPV infection is emerging as an important one as well. The objectives of this study were to assess the recent incidences of head and neck cancer in the U.S. and to investigate the trends of these cancers associated with HPV infection.
Researchers looked at data between 1995 and 2005 from 40 U.S. population-based cancer registries and tracked what essentially was going on with head and neck cancers. As some cancer sites are strongly linked to HPV infection, they also examined if rates varied by those sites associated with HPV.
In that decade, they observed a significant overall increase in head and neck cancer incidence among HPV-associated sites. In that same period, non-HPV head or neck cancers went on a major decline.
Evidence from this large population-based study suggests that, as the disease process for HPV-associated tumors is different, HPV tumor status should be incorporated into how patients are treated.
The major health breakthrough from this is the suggestion that the HPV vaccine may also help prevent head and neck cancer. (It is mainly used now to prevent cervical cancer.)
Head and neck cancer includes cancer in the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, throat, or larynx (voice box). According to the National Cancer Institute, head and neck cancers account for approximately three percent of all tumors. These cancers are nearly twice as common among men as they are among women. Head and neck cancers are also diagnosed more often among people over age 50 than they are among younger people.