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HPV-Linked Oral Cancers on the Rise, Study Finds
Date:10/3/2011

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Oct. 3 (HealthDay News) -- The rate of oral cancers linked to the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) rose dramatically over two decades, according to new government research.

Within a decade, these types of tumors might become the leading form of HPV-linked cancers, the researchers noted.

In the period between 1984 and 1989, just 16.3 percent of oral cancer samples tested positive for HPV. By 2000 to 2004, that number had jumped to 72 percent, the researchers found.

"Back in 2008, we did a study and found that the incidence rates of oropharyngeal cancers have increased. Because this increase occurred in a period where cigarette smoking has decreased, we hypothesized that another risk factor -- perhaps HPV -- might be responsible," explained the study's lead author, Anil Chaturvedi, an investigator in the division of cancer epidemiology at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

"We found that the prevalence of HPV infection significantly increased over time," said Chaturvedi.

Results of the study were published online Oct. 3 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

HPV is a sexually transmitted virus known to cause cervical cancers. The authors suggest that the current rise in oral HPV may be due to an increase in oral sex.

There's currently a vaccine available to prevent infection with certain types of HPV. It's not known, however, if this vaccine could also prevent oral infections with HPV.

For the current study, the researchers tested samples from 271 oropharyngeal cancers that occurred between 1984 and 2004. The tumor samples came from Hawaii, Iowa and Los Angeles, according to the study.

The investigators tested for a specific strain of HPV known as HPV16. This particular type of HPV is also known to cause cervical cancers, and is one of the strains covered by the cervical cancer vaccine.

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