Oropharyngeal carcinomas are diagnosed in more than 15,000 men and women in the U.S. each year. But public health experts warn that the number of cases in men over age 50 will rise dramatically in the coming years.
Thirty years ago, the overall incidence of head and neck cancers began declining, experts assumed that oropharyngeal cancers were on the run. Smoking was the leading risk factor. As tobacco use declined, so would cases of cancer. But instead, even as fewer Americans smoked, doctors began to diagnose more oropharyngeal cancers. Men outnumber women 4 to 1.
Researchers are now convinced that HPV causes most oropharyngeal cancers; the latest finding show that 3 out o 4 cases of the disease are HPV-positive. Shockingly, HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer is projected to overtake cervical cancer by 2020.
According to the CDC, an estimated 7 percent of Americans ages 14 to 69 have oral HPV. Of some 200 variants of HPV, only a small percentage are known to cause cancer. The chief culprit is HPV-16, which is carried by about 1 percent of Americans.
The virus’s DNA can hang out in cells for decades before turning cancerous. The reason for the rise of HPV- related oropharyngeal cancer is unknown, but may result from greater sexual experimentation that began in the 1960′s.
Survival rates for oropharyngeal cancer linked to HPV vary by stage, but may reach 90 percent or higher if caught early. The standard treatment is an aggressive combination of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
Original article by Peter Jaret AARP Bulletin/Real Possibilities October 2016