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New Study Links HPV To Head And Neck Cancers In Men

A new study finds that half of men in America are infected with the HPV virus. Dr. Jon LaPook reports on the growing concern that the virus in men could be responsible for an increase in head and neck cancers.

HPV Affects Half Of U.S. Men

A study out [yesterday] in The Lancet by Moffitt Cancer Center researcher Anna Giuliano, Ph.D., and her colleagues finds that 50 percent of men ages 18 to 70 in Brazil, Mexico, and the U.S. have genital infection with human papillomavirus (HPV).  HPV is the virus that causes cervical cancer in women. It also causes warts and cancer of the genitals and anus in both men and women. Over the past several years, researchers have realized that the virus can also cause cancer of the head and neck.

Aimee R. Kreimer, Ph.D., of the National Cancer Institute, estimates that about 65 percent of the approximately 8,000 cancers of the tonsils and base of the tongue (oropharynx) seen in the U.S. in 2010 were from HPV infection; eighty percent of these are in men. The rates for HPV-associated cancers like these are increasing; for sites like the mouth and larynx that are associated with tobacco and alcohol use, the rates are decreasing (though still too high since too many people still smoke and abuse alcohol).

An infection rate of 50 percent for a virus that can cause cancer sounds scary. But knowing a few more facts about HPV helps put the risk in perspective. About 90 percent of men and women infected with HPV virus get rid of it on their own within about two years. There are many different strains of HPV — some that cause cancer and some that don’t. Only about 6 percent of men have genital infection with HPV 16 — the strain linked to more than 90 percent of cancers of the head and neck. And only about 0.6 percent of men have HPV 16 in specimens taken from their mouths; what percentage of those men go on to develop head and neck cancer is unknown. Read more »

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