JOMS study: Rate of sexually transmitted virus-related mouth and throat cancer increasing

ROSEMONT, Ill. – The rate of sexually transmitted virus-related mouth and throat cancer is rising 2.5 percent per year in the United States, even though the overall incidence of head and neck cancer is decreasing, according to a new study.

Researchers reviewed more than 149,000 cases of head and neck cancer from 2002 to 2012 in the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database.

Infection of HPV (human papillomavirus) – the most common sexually transmitted infection in the country – is a risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer. HPV-related cancers rose significantly in every state except for Georgia, Hawaii and Michigan, according to the retrospective study published in the December issue of the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

“The recent increase in HPV-related cancer could be due to increased rates of oral HPV exposure because markers of high-risk sexual behavior, such as younger ages of sexual debut, premarital sex, average number of lifetime partners and the practice of oral sex, have increased among recent birth cohorts in the United States,” the authors wrote in the study in the official journal of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS).

Cases of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer in men increased 2.89 percent each year, and the authors said they anticipate this trend will continue. Men with HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers outnumber women with the cancers by a 4-to-1 ratio. More men may have the disease due to differences in sexual practices and current vaccination trends, including a three-year gap in HPV vaccination recommendations for boys and “large discrepancies in coverage and administering vaccinations,” researchers wrote.

Typically, patients with HPV-related cancer are younger (by three to five years), have a higher education level, more sexual partners, are white and less likely to have used tobacco and alcohol extensively compared to patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinomas unrelated to HPV, the study notes.

Yet, researchers found the rate of head and neck cancer decreased 0.22 percent each year. In addition, the rate of laryngeal cancer (related to the voice box) declined 1.9 percent annually.

“This decreasing trend has been attributed to decreased rates of smoking in younger populations and evolving tobacco-related legislation and marketing,” the authors wrote.

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