HPV and Cancer Revisited

A recent post on my blog discussed a report by one of my colleagues, Dr. Maura Gillison, on the rise of HPV as a cause of oral cancer. This report is continuing to make news and was highlighted in an article published earlier this week in The Baltimore Sun.

Why is this important? As I discussed previously, this finding raises the possibility that immunization of boys with the HPV vaccine might be helpful not only to break the cycle of sexually transmitted HPV causing cervical cancer, but also to protect the boys themselves from oral cancer.

But the study has implications beyond that. Until recently, the major risk factors for oral cancer were age, alcohol consumption, and smoking. That profile is changing, though, as HPV is becoming a more important cause of this disease.

More recently, doctors are seeing oral cancers arising in younger men with no history of smoking or heavy drinking. Oral cancers in this population are increasing in frequency, and if the trend continues, the number of oral cancer cases may surpass the number of cervical cancer cases in the US.

Fortunately, Dr. Gillison’s group found something else. The prognosis of patients with HPV-associated oral cancer is better than the prognosis of patients whose oral cancer is not caused by the virus.

I guess that’s a silver lining, but all in all it would be better not to get cancer at all!

Illustration courtesy of MedlinePlus