Widely known due to its association with cervical cancer and the Gardasil vaccine, HPV is now responsible for a growing number of throat cancers in the United States, with a younger population experiencing the condition at a higher rate.
What is HPV? How do You Get HPV?
Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is a collection of over 150 different related viruses. The virus is named because of the papillomas warts that some strains of the virus can cause.
You contract HPV by skin-to-skin contact through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone that has the HPV virus. Even if you’ve only had sex one time with one person, you can contract HPV if they are carrying the virus. In some cases, people that have the HPV virus typically do not have symptoms, which is why it is so easily spread. Genital warts are a sign that you may have HPV. These warts can appear on the cervix, groin, scrotum, anus, thigh, or penis. They may be flat or raised, pink or flesh-colored, and they may be large or small.
Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 80 percent of Americans will contract HPV at some point, most people are able to fight the virus via the immune system, but this is not the case across the board.
How Does HPV Cause Throat Cancer?
The HPV strain that causes oral cancers in the mouth, throat, and tonsils is HPV16. The viral cells cause changes in normal cells that will go back to normal after the virus is destroyed by a healthy immune system.
Laryngeal or pharyngeal cancer is caused when the body fails to fight off the virus and cells are mutated permanently, though it may take years to develop. Because of the potential for certain strains of HPV to cause cancer, an emphasis on early vaccination has been implemented in the US and research into HPV is continuously conducted to learn more about it.
Symptoms of Throat Cancer
There are many symptoms associated with throat cancer that also occur with other conditions, which makes it nearly undetectable until it has advanced into late stages. Signs of oral cancer are associated with conditions such as the common cold, sore throat, or strep.
Common signs of throat cancer from HPV include:
- Chronic sore throat that persists, even after antibiotics
- An unexplained lump or mass in the throat
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
- Unexplained weight loss
- Pain in the ear or jaw
- Difficulty swallowing
- Changes in the voice
- Mouth ulcers
Tumors and Throat Cancer
Not everyone experiences the same symptoms, and many will not experience symptoms until the cancer has progressed. A noticeable tumor in the throat is commonly the only indicator that you have throat cancer.
The Rise of Throat Cancer- HPV #1 Cause
Over a period of 30 years, from 1984 to 2004, the amount of HPV-positive throat cancer tripled. Research claims that the rise is due to new and changing sexual behavior, including an increasingly common practice of oral sex.
Smokers are usually at a greater risk for oral cancers, but Caucasian men that don’t smoke, ages 35 to 55 are at a greater risk of developing throat cancer. Currently, about four males are diagnosed per female with throat cancer.
What to do if You Have Throat Cancer Caused by HPV
The good news is that only 3 percent of all cancers are related to the throat, and throat cancer rates are on the decline. However, HPV is the leading cause of throat cancer in the United States. About 21 percent of throat cancer patients will die due to a late diagnosis, and many of those patients will need hospice care near the end of life.
If you have or suspect you have throat cancer, you should seek immediate medical attention from an oncologist, or cancer physician. Throat cancer treatments are determined by many factors, including the extent to which your cancer has progressed.
Depending on the size and complexity of the tumor, the first treatment is surgery to remove throat cancer. If the tumor is too large for surgery or only part of it can be removed, radiation and/or chemotherapy are used to shrink and destroy malignant (cancerous) cells or to prevent them from growing larger.
As modern medicine advances, treatments for oral cancers will help prolong life. For now, early intervention is the key to a long and healthy life. Although there has been a large rise in HPV-positive cancer, increased awareness is helping to bring about earlier diagnoses, leading to the greater chance for survival.
Hospice Care for Cancer Patients
Throat cancer patients may require comfort care, or hospice care should the disease progress to that point. Hospice care for cancer patients can provide compassionate end-of-life care in order for them to maintain their dignity and comfortability. To learn more about how hospice can support your family during this difficult time by addressing the medical, emotional, and spiritual needs of your loved one, please send us a message online or call us today.