Womens Health

Head And Neck Cancer From Oral Sex

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now approved the use of the Gardasil vaccine for boys and men aged 9-26. The vaccine was approved to protect males against HPV6 and HPV11, both of which cause genital warts. By happenstance, during this very same month (October 2009), a study was published that proves a connection between the human Papillomavirus and a ballooning rate for nasopharyngeal cancer.

Young people may think they are safe from the various sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) if they stick to oral sex, but it seems that many people are getting HPV through this very route. In fact, even kissing can be a vehicle by which the virus is transmitted. The human Papillomavirus can be transmitted to the anus, penis, vagina, tonsils, tongue, and throat and can lead to various cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer.

Uncommon Cancer

The study was conducted by the University of Michigan's Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the results were published in the distinguished journal Head & Neck.

Nasopharyngeal cancer is an uncommon form of head and neck cancer that affects the nasopharynx, or the uppermost section of the throat, just above the tonsils. The pharynx is also located in this area, and is found just behind the nose.

Here are some facts and figures issued by the American Cancer Society on the subject of nasopharyngeal cancer:

*Only seven in every 1 million Americans is diagnosed with this type of cancer, annually. This figure represents 2,000 new cases each year.

Stuffy Nose

*Most of those diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer discover a lump somewhere on their necks, which is a sign that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. But other symptoms associated with this cancer may not be suspected of signifying a serious condition, for instance facial pain or numbness, headaches, nosebleeds, or a stuffy nose.

Dr. Carol Bradford, who chairs the otolaryngology department at the U of M comments, "Over the past 10 years, my practice has seen a steady increase in the proportion of tonsil cancer," citing an example of one form of head and neck cancer that seems to be reaching near-epidemic proportions. "Most of our new head and neck cancer patients today have these tonsil and throat cancers, and most are related to HPV."

But Bradford tells us that until the study was published, researchers had not had any idea that HPV was responsible for causing cancer in this particular location. It's lucky for these cancer patients that the odds of surviving nasopharyngeal cancer are pretty good. The five year survival rate (after treatment) stands at 60% and the mortality rate is on a good steady, downhill course.

Better Response

In a related study, Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University was able to confirm the results of previous studies which showed that head and neck cancers due to HPV respond to treatment far better than cancers developed as a result of excessive alcohol consumption or smoking.

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