Breaking the Silence on HPV: December 9, 2012

There is not much being said about throat and neck cancers...

“It’s not talked up very much, I guess we have never had anybody have this kind of cancer who is a real good spokesperson for it,” says Dr. Phillip Andrews, otolaryngologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

But doctors are trying to serve as mouthpieces, breaking the silence on the link between these cancers and HPV.

“Fifteen-eighteen years ago, probably 90-95% of my new cancer patients were smokers and their cancers were most of the time caused by the smoking. But now about 45% are non-smokers and the majority of those are caused by HPV,” says Dr. Andrews.

The number of HPV-related head and neck cancers is on the rise. Today’s patients are men and women in their 40s and 50s who’ve never smoked and rarely drink but who’ve been infected with one of two HPV strains.
Breaking it down by the numbers: if you're a drinker and a smoker you're at 53 times the risk of developing oral cancers. But if you have the HPV virus, your risk of developing cancer is 243 times the risk. The only positive, is that in most cases the tumors are curable.
“These are largely cancers of the tonsils or the base of the tongue, way back in the back of the throat. The treatment is primarily radiation and chemotherapy. It depends on what stage we catch it. Some of the smaller cancers in the base of the tongue and tonsils we’ll treat with radiation alone, particularly if it’s HPV related,” says Dr. Andrews.

All this adds up to bring awareness to a quietly but quickly growing disease.