University of Texas at Austin-led research discovers that 73% of head and neck cancers are related to human papillomavirus (HPV) which is vaccine preventable.
Human Papillomavirus Virus
HPV, an infection causes human papillomavirus (HPV). About 90% of HPV infections trigger no symptoms and resolve spontaneously within a couple years. But in some cases an HPV infection persists and results in either warts or precancerous lesions. These lesions may increase the risk of cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth or throat. An HPV infection is caused by human papillomavirus, a DNA virus from the papillomavirus family. It is estimated to be the most prevalent sexually transmitted disease in the United States. The CDC reports that 79 million Americans are infected with HPV, reported KVUE. Moreover, CDC data shows about 44,000 new cases of cancer are found in the parts of the body where HPV is often found, and the virus causes nearly 35,000 of those cancers.
Led by Dr. Laura Chow, professor at Dell Medical School at University of Texas Austin, found 73% head and neck cancers are actually related to HPV infection rather than tobacco or alcohol. Chow noted that in the past few decades smoking has waned and noted, “We’re seeing that there’s been a substantial rise in HPV, or human papillomavirus, associated with head and neck cancers, in particularly throat cancers.” Chow emphasized on the television newscast “Usually it’s a lag period of 10 to 20 years before we start seeing the virus infection subsequently causing cancer.” HPV can also cause cervical cancer. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved the HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9) for adults up to 45 years old. Dr. Chow suggests kids get vaccinated between the ages of nine and 11 or prior to the period where sexual activity commences. Chow reminds the public, “There’s something very effective that we can do to prevent people from having, developing cancer from this type of infection.” The vaccine is administered in a series of three shots—the first shot, one two months after and a final six months from the first.
Texas Far Behind when it comes to Public Health & HPV
A 2017 study authored by University of Texas Office of Health Affairs revealed that Texas ranked at the near bottom of the nation (47th out of 50 states) for HPV vaccination rates. Consequently, by 2018 a plan was published by the Texas Medical Association to boost HPV vaccination rates in the nation’s second most populous state. With nearly 30 million, the deficient vaccination rates could lead to many more potentially deadly cancers.
Laura Chow, MD, Associate Director Clinical Research, Dell Medical School, UT Austin
Call to Action: The evidence suggests following the recommendation of Dr. Chow and have young people vaccinated prior to sexual activity. The virus is so common and the risk of cancer is significant. Mention this to your family physician if there are children involved. Are there any risks? Yes—see the safety label.