HPV Vaccination May Help Prevent Oropharyngeal Cancer

HPV Vaccination May Help Prevent Oropharyngeal Cancer

Infection with high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV) appears to contribute to the development of oropharyngeal cancer, and HPV vaccination of both boys and girls may reduce the occurrence of this disease. This was the conclusion of a review published in the journal Cancer.

Oropharyngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer. The oropharynx is the part of the throat that includes the soft palate, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils. Exposures that are known to increase the risk of oropharyngeal cancer include tobacco and alcohol use. Research has also suggested that infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) may also play a role.

Human papillomaviruses (HPV) consist of more than 100 different viruses. Some types of HPV cause warts on the hands or feet; others cause genital warts; and some have been linked with cancer, most notably cervical cancer. The types of HPV that account for a majority of cases of cervical cancer are HPV 16 and HPV 18.

Vaccines that prevent infection with high-risk types of HPV have the potential to greatly reduce the occurrence of cervical cancer as well as other HPV-related cancers. The HPV vaccine that is currently on the market is Gardasil®, which targets HPV types 6 and 11 (which are linked with genital warts) as well as the cancer-associated types 16 and 18. The vaccine is approved for use in girls and women between the ages of nine and 26 years.

To build the case for vaccinating both girls and boys against HPV, researchers explored trends in head and neck cancer incidence. The trends suggest that overall, the incidence of head and neck cancer has declined as smoking rates have declined. Incidence of oropharyngeal cancer in particular, however, has not declined and appears to be increasing in young adults. This lack of a decline in oropharyngeal cancer may reflect the role of HPV in this disease.

To achieve the maximum possible reduction in HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer, it will likely be important to vaccinate both girls and boys against HPV. The vaccine has not yet been approved for use in boys, but studies in boys are underway. The researchers conclude: We encourage the rapid study of the efficacy and safety of these vaccines in males and, if successful, the recommendation of vaccination in young adult and adolescent males.

Reference: Sturgis EM, Cinciripini PM. Trends in head and neck cancer incidence in relation to smoking prevalence: an emerging epidemic of human papillomavirus-associated cancers? Cancer. 2007;110:1429-35.

Related News:American Cancer Society Develops Recommendations for HPV Vaccination (3/5/2007)

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