October 13, 2008

Some Oral Cancer Seen Linked to HPV and Sexual Activity

ST. LOUIS -- Ten years ago, most of Dr. Brian Nussenbaum's oral cancer patients were men over 60 who used tobacco and drank heavily.

Today, his patients with oral cancer look different. And so does the risky behavior that seems to be leading to their cancer.

Nussenbaum, an ear nose throat doctor at Washington University, estimates that 70 percent of his cancer patients have tumors on the back of their tongues and tonsils caused by human papillomavirus- 16. Most of those patients are between ages 45 and 55. About half are women.

And experts suspect that all of them -- men and women -- got the HPV from oral sex.

"We know now that 98 percent of cervical cancer is caused by HPV, and mostly HPV-16," says Nussenbaum. "But no one talks about how you can also get mouth cancer from it."

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center reported a link between HPV and these specific throat cancers in 2000. They and other medical experts suspect the increase in HPV oral cancer stems from a shift in sexual behaviors about 40 years ago, combined with a dramatic decrease in the number of tonsillectomies performed. Cancer from the HPV virus often develop on the tonsils.

Originally published by McClatchy Newspapers.

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