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Cancer Tip: HPVs Linked to Head and Neck Cancers

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

It is now well known that human papillomaviruses, or HPVs, are connected to cervical and anal cancers. What may not be as well known is that HPV is a risk factor for about 26% of head and neck cancers not caused by tobacco or alcohol.

Some of the HPVs cause benign warts on hands and feet and do not pass from person to person easily. However there are more than 40 other HPV strains that can be passed easily from person to person through sexual contact. For some people, these HPV infections may go away easily on their own. In others, the virus will stay in the body and may increase the person’s risk of developing cancer.

HPV is a virus that can infect the body and leave without causing problems in some people. Unfortunately, in others it stays and can cause cancer of the cervix, anus, penis, or oral cavity. It can be difficult to know if you or a partner is infected so it is important to protect yourself as well as your partners by using condoms during any sexual activity, or abstain from all sexual contact.

Women can be tested to find out if their cervical tissue is infected with HPV. Currently there is no test approved by the FDA for men or to determine if a person’s oral cavity is infected. Researchers have used HPV antibody levels as a marker for HPV infection.

There are two HPV vaccines available now for boys and girls ages 9-26. It has been recommended for women who already have been infected with one HPV strain and are between 9 and 26 years old should still be vaccinated in order to protect herself from additional high-risk strains.

For more information about head and neck cancer, HPV, or any cancer concern, contact the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center/Cancer Information Service: