Can Throat Cancer be Caused by HPV 16?

HPV Throat Cancer Michael Douglas

Michael Douglas recently brought HPV16-Related Throat Cancer into the forefront of many people’s minds this week when he commented that oral sex is a cause of throat cancer and the possible cause of his own throat cancer.

HPV, known to cause cervical cancer for many years, recently was also linked to a common head and neck cancer. HPV16 – related throat cancer typically affects otherwise healthy men between the ages of 50 and 60 who are non-smokers and non-drinkers.  The  symptoms are very unlike traditional oral cancers.  It first appears as a mass in the neck with no other symptoms.

Winship Cancer Institute Head and Neck Surgeon, Amy Chen, MD stated in an article in Prevention that “HPV16 has been found to be associated with one type of oral cancer at the base of the tongue and the tonsil, otherwise known as the pharynx.    Unfortunately at this time there are no screening tests for HPV of the throat.

The good news is the prognosis for cases of HPV16-caused throat cancer is good, so long as the patient is a non-smoker. Winship researchers and others are looking for ways to identify whether patients with HPV16-caused throat cancer need as much treatment as patients whose cancer is not caused by the virus.

More good news –  there is a vaccine available that can help young boys from developing the HPV16 -related throat cancer later in life.  It is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that all boys ages 11 – 21 receive a vaccine.  The vaccine can also help boys prevent cancers of the penis and anus.

Education about the disease and the vaccine available is crucial to help prevent this disease.  Spread the word to all your families about the importance of getting the vaccine.

About Amy Chen, MD, MPH, FACS

Amy Chen, MD, MPH, FACS, is a member of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at the Emory University School of Medicine. She has a joint appointment at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, and she served as Director of Health Services Research in the Department of Surveillance and Health Policy Research of the American Cancer Society. Dr. Chen has been instrumental in developing a team approach to patient care. She developed and continues to lead the multidisciplinary head and neck tumor conference as well as the thyroid tumor conference. Dr. Chen began practicing at Emory in 2001.

Dr. Chen specializes in otolaryngology (ENT) and has been Board-Certified since 1999. She also completed a head and neck surgical oncology fellowship at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Her expertise is in upper aerodigestive tract cancers, parotid, and thyroid tumors. Dr. Chen also specializes in robotic surgery. Her other areas of clinical interest are head and neck cancer, laser surgery, melanoma, parathyroid surgery, skin cancer, thyroid surgery, and tongue malignancies.

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