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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Are individuals with human papillomavirus associated head and neck cancer still carrying the virus in their throat after treatment?

Oral human papillomavirus (HPV) infection a virus spread during oral sex is now the main cause of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) in people under 50. Oral HPV infection is a concern for patients with HPV-positive HNSCC and their partners. Recent studies showed that the virus can stay in the throat of patients with NNSCC associated with the virus even after the cancer is treated by radiation and surgery.  (Agrawal et al, Clinical Cancer Research 2008). However, most individuals with the oral HPV virus infection do not develop cancer. After treatment, cases with HPV16-positive tumors had an estimated 14-fold increase of oral HPV16 infection when compared to cases with HPV16-negative tumors. The odds of a diagnosis of an HPV16-positive versus negative HNSCC increased with lifetime number of oral sexual partners.

This finding illustrates that many patients with this type of cancer are still carrying the virus in their body and can potentially spread it to others. However, since this virus is very prevalent in individuals ( can be found in almost half of adults ) the significance of this information is unclear.

The effect of the introduction of HPV vaccination (introduced to prevent cervical cancer) to girls and boys on the potential of development of HNSCC is unknown at present and requires further studies.

Oral HPV infection

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