The link between HPV and throat cancer

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

By Deb Balzer

There are more than 100 strains of HPV. Some types of the virus can cause cancer. HPV 16 has been linked to the rising cases of oropharyngeal cancer, commonly known as throat cancer. It is the most common HPV-associated cancer in men, and the rate of infection continues to increase.

Katharine Price, M.D., a medical oncologist with the Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center, says that while HPV-related throat cancer is often curable, prevention is best. Watch this "Mayo Clinic Minute" video to hear more from Dr. Price on this topic:

Oropharyngeal cancers are the most common HPV-related cancers, and they occur more frequently in men. About 60% to 70% of head and neck cancers are linked to the virus. Dr. Price explains where it often develops.

"Largely in the oropharynx — this part of the throat that is at the tonsil and then circling around to the back of the tongue, and it's where all of this lymphoid-rich tissue lives," she says.

Preventing throat cancer

These cancers are treatable, but prevention is always better, starting with the HPV vaccine.

"It's a vaccine that is recommended for all boys and girls, at age 11 and 12. That's when it's on the routine recommendation list for vaccines, although you can actually give it as early as 9," Dr. Price says.

The vaccine is available to people through age 45.

"It's much better to get a vaccine that's safe, that has no long-term side effects or complications than to have to go through surgery, radiation, chemotherapy," says Dr. Price.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information on the vaccine dosage and schedule for children and adults.

Along with vaccination, you can reduce risks by avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol use.

HPV infection is often symptomless and can lead to cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis and anus as well as the throat.

Learn more

Learn more about throat cancer and find a clinical trial at Mayo Clinic.

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A version of this article was originally published on the Mayo Clinic News Network.