HPV discovered as possible cause of throat cancer

Laura Lucas

Laura Lucas

HPV 16 (Human Papillomavirus strain 16) infection is now linked with oropharyngeal cancer in men and women according to a new study in The New England Journal of Medicine.

HPV 16 is one of two strains that cause 70% of cervical cancer in women. HPV can cause cervical cancer, genital warts and throat cancer. Most men who get HPV never develop any symptoms or health problems.

The study found that people with a history of six or more oral sex partners, not excluding mouth-to-mouth contact, are three times more likely to develop cancer. Also, men are at a greater risk of getting this type of oral cancer.

Dr. Joe Lombardi, an obstetrician and gynecologist, said there are ways for people to protect themselves and practice safer sex. “People should know their partner and use barrier methods. There are over 100 types of HPV and more are being diagnosed all the time”, he said.

Lombardi said the way HPV is tested in women is by hybridization and looking at DNA. That means a doctor looks at the patient’s DNA for HPV markers.

The reaction from men on campus has been mixed. Anthony Beck, a sophomore majoring inelectronics engineering technology, said, “HPV is just another thing you can get.”

While Andy Lindsay, a junior animal science major, said he didn’t know that men could get HPV. Micah Newhouse, a junior mechanical engineering major, said HPV in men doesn’t scare him because people can get cancer from anything.

The study showed that heavy tobacco and alcohol use is not a risk factor for this type of cancer, though it is typically linked to cancer.

Maura Gillison, MD, an HPV researcher at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, said, “The number of oropharyngeal cancers caused by HPV is probably larger than the number caused by smoking and alcohol, at least in the U.S.”