The human papillomavirus is a sexually transmitted disease known to cause cervical cancer in women. But did you know that HPV can also lead to head and neck cancers? Statistics show that an increasing number of patients are developing throat cancer from HPV – many are men over the age of 50.
While there are hundreds of types of HPV, types 16 and 18 are particularly worrisome. They’re linked to cancers at the tonsils and base of the tongue.
HPV can also cause wart-like growths in the larynx and airway. Recurrent respiratory papillomas from other HPV subtypes and these lesions can lead to noisy breathing.
The best way to protect against HPV and its complications is with vaccines for both males and females. Typically, HPV vaccination takes place at age 11 or 12. The vaccine is recommended through age 26, and it can be offered to patients up to age 45 who have not been vaccinated.
Symptoms of head and neck cancer related to HPV can include a chronic sore throat, ear pain or difficulty swallowing. Patients may also notice a neck mass that pops up and does not go away. If you notice these symptoms, consult your doctor.
Treatment of these cancers involves surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Jordan W. Rawl, MD, is a head and neck cancer physician at Lexington ENT & Allergy, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice. She has specialized training in the advanced care and treatment of head and neck cancers.