Research indicates HPV may be responsible for increase in head and neck cancer


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Smokers are more likely to contract HPV, according to a new study. (Photograph: Savanevich Viktar/Shutterstock)
Dental Tribune International

By Dental Tribune International

Tue. 1. November 2016


DERBY, UK: A study conducted by University of Derby researchers has confirmed previous findings of a link between certain lifestyle choices and a higher risk of developing head and neck cancer from human papillomavirus (HPV) infections. The results of a questionnaire and mouth swab from 120 British adults between the ages of 18 and 24 showed that those who smoked, for example, were more likely to contract the disease.

The study is the first in the UK to look at the rates of the common oral infection in healthy young adults. It found that one in 25 had a detectable oral HPV infection and the majority of these were smokers.

Transmitted through human contact, high-risk strains of HPV can lead to a variety of cancers, including cervical cancer in women, as well as head and neck cancers in both sexes.

Up to 2,500 people die in the UK from head and neck cancer each year, and head and neck clinics in the UK have seen steadily increasing numbers of patients with HPV-associated cancers in recent years, according to the university’s Head of Biomedical Science and Public Health Dr Gillian Knight, particularly in white males under the age of 40.

“HPV is a very common infection, with around 80% of adults being exposed to a genital HPV infection by their mid-twenties,” she explained. “We already know that this high infection rate influences the likelihood of women developing cervical cancer, but what we don’t know is how many people who have an oral HPV infection go on to develop HPV head and neck cancer.”

The researchers are now planning to collaborate with the Royal Derby Hospital to investigate the rates of HPV infection in patients to determine the prevalence of oral HPV infection in a wider age range for future prevention.

“In the UK, we only vaccinate 12–13-year-old girls with the HPV jab to prevent them from picking up the high-risk strains of HPV when they become sexually active, which hopefully will prevent in girls all HPV-related cancers, including cervical cancer. However, we do not vaccinate boys even though they have the same risk of contracting HPV infection as women and a recently identified risk—higher than in women—of head and neck cancer,” Knight said.

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