Study: Oral cancers on rise due to HPV

By Ryan Buffa |

Many Flagler College students are reconsidering human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines due to the growing number of head and neck cancers in the United States caused by the HPV virus.

According to a new study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the number of cases of oropharyngeal cancer, which are cancers of the tonsils, throat and base of the tongue, have been rising since the mid-1980s.

“I got all three shots because I was influenced by my doctor and my mom because it seemed like a good way to protect myself,” said student Courtney Fusilier. “I think people should get it if they don’t want to die from those types of cancer.”

The causes of oral cancers function within two categories: cancer caused by tobacco and alcohol and cancer caused by the sexually transmitted virus, HPV, researchers said.

Researchers now believe that 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers are caused by HPV.

“The HPV status of a patient’s tumor is the single greatest determinant of whether a person lives or dies after a diagnosis of local-regionally advanced oropharynx cancer,” Gillison said.

According to Gillison, about 95 percent of the HPV-positive oropharynx cancers were caused by HPV16. This strain is specifically targeted by Gardasil and Cervarix, which are two vaccines on the market to prevent cervical cancer.

Communication major Adair Findley believes the HPV vaccines should be taken for a good piece of mind.

“HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection so I think it is important to get a vaccination to not only protect yourself from this, but from other cancers that are caused by HPV,” Findley said.

Gardasil was approved in 2006 to prevent HPV and genital warts and to be used by females ages nine to 26. Cervarix was approved in 2009 for use in females ages 10 to 25.

Although these HPV vaccines are approved and target the strain that causes cancer, there has been much controversy over whether or not to get the shots.

In 2010, around 49 percent of girls ages 13 to 17 received one dose of the vaccine, but only 32 percent received all three doses, according to the Center of Disease Control.

“I personally haven’t had [the HPV vaccine],” Flagler College senior Jordan Novick said, “because I had done a lot of research for the shot before I got it and I thought there wasn’t enough proof that it works or not. I would rather just get the normal pap smears and test done every year,” said Novick.

However, the study found that oral cancers are rapidly increasing compared to other HPV related cancers such as cervical cancer, according to principal investigator Dr. Anil Chaturvedi of the National Cancer Institute. This is due to screenings specialized for cervical cancer. However, there is no screenings made for oropharyngeal cancers.

“I have gotten the three gardasil shots,” said Flagler student Colby Eaton. “My mom wanted me to get them and I figured anything that can help prevent cancer, why not? I didn’t have any bad side effects, so I don’t know why people would not want to get them.”

However, Chaturvedi said only time will tell.

“Should the observed declines in cervical cancer and the observed increases in HPV positive oropharyngeal cancers continue into the future,” Chaturvedi said, “HPV positive oropharyngeal cancers will be the leading HPV associated cancers over the next decade—by around 2020.”

Flagler College junior Katie Vidan said although the pain she experienced from the first shot prevented her from finishing the series, she is thinking of reconsidering.

“It’s definitely the worse shot I have ever gotten and so I didn’t want to take the other two shots,” she said. “Honestly, I knew it was good and would protect me from bad things but I was not very informed.
Now that I know that this is more of a prominent problem and becoming an issue, I would be more willing to get the shots again now.”

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