14:11 PM

HPV Raises Risk of Head and Neck Cancer Sevenfold

Study shows HPV poses threat beyond cervical cancer

You've probably heard about the human papillomavirus (HPV) and its link to cervical cancer. That can be pretty frightening for any female. Now a new study is sounding the alarm linking HPV with head and neck cancer, which can affect both men and women.

According to researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, HPV raises the chances someone will get head and neck cancer by at least sevenfold.

For their study, 96,000 people took a mouthwash test for oral HPV infection. Four years later, 132 of them developed some form of head and neck cancer. People infected with a strain called HPV-16 were between two and 22 times as likely to be in the cancer group.

"This study backs up knowledge we already have about how common HPV is and how significant its association with cancer is," said Jason Terk, M.D., a pediatrician at Cook Children's primary care location on Keller Parkway. "HPV is an infectious disease and we all need to be concerned."

By the year 2020, experts believe head and neck cancer will surpass cervical cancer as the most common cancer caused by HPV.

But there is good news. HPV can be prevented.

The FDA has approved vaccines that prevent the HPV strains that are associated with cancers of the cervix and head and neck. Boys and girls can begin the vaccination process as early as age 9. And a new version of HPV vaccine, approved earlier this year, has even more cancer protection.

"Only 39 percent of adolescents in the U.S. have received the HPV vaccine. Here in Texas, that number drops to 33 percent," said Dr. Terk. "This is a relevant issue for all parents. We have a vaccine that can prevent cancer. Parents should start the vaccination process as soon as their pediatrician recommends. "

Some parents may feel uncomfortable talking to their children about the HPV vaccine. For those parents, here's Dr. Terk's advice:

  • Explain that the vaccine protects against a very common infection that causes cancer
  • · Most people (80%) will get infected with the types of HPV that can cause cancer

  • · HPV vaccination equals cancer protection

  • · It is best to get the vaccine at 11-12 years of age with the other adolescent vaccine; it works best at this age.

Also good to remember, research shows that youth who receive the HPV vaccine are not more likely to have sex. 

About the Source 

Jason Terk, M.D., earned his medical degree from University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. He completed his residency in pediatrics at Mayo Graduate School of Medicine (Mayo Clinic) in Rochester, Minnesota. His interests include public policy advocacy for children's health issues, focusing primarily on vaccines. Dr. Terk is board-certified in pediatrics.

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