Oral cancer linked to HPV infection higher in single men and smokers

As a per the findings of a new study, single men and smokers are more vulnerable to human papillomavirus(HPV)-related oral cancer.

According to experts, the incidence of newly acquired oral HPV infections in healthy men is relatively rare but when present usually clears within one year.

HPV is best known for causing cervical cancer, the second most common malignancy in women worldwide, but certain strains of the virus can also a cause anal, penile, head, and neck cancers. HVP infection has now been linked to oropharyngeal cancer. These are cancers that occur on the tongue, tonsils and the throat.

According to medics, not everyone with oral HPV infection gets cancer. In a majority of the cases, a person’s immune system gets rid of the infection. There are dozens of types of HPV but only a few cause cancer. HPV 16 and HPV 18 cause about 70 per cent of cervical cancers while for oral cancer, the most dangerous subtype is HPV16.

Lead author of the study, Christine M. Pierce Campbell, Ph.D., M.P.H., a postdoctoral fellow in Moffitt’s Center for Infection Research in Cancer stated, “Some types of HPV, such as HPV16, are known to cause cancer at multiple places in the body, including the oral cavity. We know that HPV infection is associated with oropharyngeal cancer, but we don’t know how the virus progresses from initial infection to cancer in the oral cavity. One aspect of the HIM Study is to gather data to help us understand the natural history of these infections.”

Study details
The focus of the study was to explore the pattern of HPV infections in the oral region and how long they lasted. The researchers assessed the levels of HPV infection in oral mouthwash samples collected from 1,626 men between the ages of 18 and 73 who were part of the HPV Infection in Men (HIM) Study.

The men were tracked for just over a year. The researchers observed that within the study period around 4.5 percent of the study subjects acquired an oral HPV infection, less than 1 percent had the most common HPV16 infection and less than 2 percent had a cancer-causing type of oral HPV.

The analysis showed low prevalence of oral HPV cancers. Cancer-causing (oncogenic) HPV infections were detected in 1.7 percent of the men and appeared higher in smokers and those who were not married or living with a partner. The infections lasted on average between 6.3 to 7.3 months.

Experts theorize that just like persistent cervical HPV infection leads to cervical pre-cancer, there are chances that persistent oral HPV16 infection may be a detrimental to oropharyngeal cancer.

Anna R. Giuliano, PhD, director of Moffitt’s Center for Infection Research in Cancer, said, “Additional HPV natural history studies are needed to better inform the development of infection-related prevention efforts. HPV16 is associated with the rapid increase in incidence of oropharyngeal cancer, most noticeably in the United States, Sweden and Australia, where it is responsible for more than 50 percent of cases. Unfortunately, there are no proven methods to prevent or detect these cancers at an early stage.”

The study results appeared in The Lancet journal.