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HPV-associated throat cancer is on the rise in men.
With the typical patient being 50 to 60 years old, Black and Latino men are dying from the disease at higher rates than their white counterparts, regardless of the stage of diagnosis or the type of treatment they receive.
These staggering statistics come from a 2022 study published in the Annals of Cancer Epidemiology.
Here’s what you need to know about HPV-associated throat cancer, and what you can do to help prevent it.
What Causes HPV-Associated Throat Cancer?
There are many types of HPVs, some of which can cause cancer later in life, according to the American Cancer Society.
HPV-associated throat cancer can develop in the oropharynx, the area in the back of the tongue and the tonsils, when the virus is transmitted during heterosexual or homosexual oral sex with an infected partner.
The oropharynx has an uneven surface with deep crevices that make it a good environment for the virus to lodge, according to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Men are five times more likely than women to develop throat cancer from HPV infections. Last year in the US, more than 7,000 men died from cancers of the mouth and throat, and an estimated 38,800 men were diagnosed with the disease, according to the recent study.
“The new statistics should spotlight male throat cancer as an important new public health concern,” said Jeanne Ferrante, the study’s senior author and professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Dr. Neil Gross, professor and director of clinical research at MD Anderson, agrees.
“We used to see mostly smokers [for throat cancers]. Now we see mostly nonsmokers, and their throat cancers are almost uniformly HPV-related,” he said in an MD Anderson article.
What Are the Symptoms of Throat Cancer?
Symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer may include a long-lasting sore throat, earaches, hoarseness, swollen lymph nodes, pain when swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, according to the CDC.
Some people have no symptoms, because the cancer often develops in a crevice where patients “don’t usually feel it. It can be painless,” Dr. Gross explained in an MD Anderson article.
Sometimes, symptoms of throat cancer can be mistaken for an infection. So if symptoms persist, especially a lump in the neck, Dr. Gross suggested seeing an ear, nose and throat specialist.
What Can I Do to Prevent HPV-Associated Throat Cancer?
The good news is that the HPV vaccine can prevent more than 90% of HPV-associated cancers when given at ages 11 or 12, or as early as age 9, according to CDC guidelines.
Everyone through age 26 can receive the vaccine, if not adequately vaccinated when younger.
Speak with your healthcare provider if you are older than 26. Vaccination is not always recommended for this age group.
HPV vaccination is given as a series of either two or three doses, depending on age at initial vaccination.
There is no available screening test to detect HPV in men, so that’s why getting the HPV vaccine to help prevent cancer later in life is so important.
Learn more about where you can get the HPV vaccine!
You Can Speak Up for Vaccine Safety
Latinos suffer a heavy burden of disease, like HPV.
Yet Latinos often have low rates of getting vaccines that can prevent cancer and other diseases, due to rising misinformation, low healthcare access and other inequities, and historical bias in healthcare.
To help move Latinos from vaccine uncertainty to vaccine confidence, Salud America! is uplifting the stories of real Latinos who overcame misinformation, got the COVID-19 vaccine, reconnected with family, and are helping end the pandemic and variants like Delta and Omicron.
For example, Rosa Herrera read misinformation on Facebook that the COVID-19 vaccine would inject her with a microchip.
What changed her heart to get the vaccine?
After researching and learning that the vaccine is safe, she got vaccinated, and she’s glad she did.
“I’m able to see my grandkids and my kids here. It gives you more freedom,” Herrera said.