- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2008

Cases of oral cancers caused by a sexually transmitted virus are on the rise, especially since 2000, says a study released today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Tobacco use and alcohol consumption historically have been the major risk factors for oral cancers, which strike about 35,000 people a year and are fatal among about 8,000 people.

But sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) has emerged as a risk factor, especially in cancers of the tongue and tonsil, said researchers at the National Cancer Institute and Johns Hopkins University.

“Incidence of HPV-related [oral cancers] increased significantly from 1973 to 2004,” and especially between 2000 and 2004, wrote Anil Chaturvedi and colleagues. Meanwhile, incidences of oral cancers not related to HPV fell since 1983, possibly because of a decline in smoking and alcohol consumption, the study said.

Men were far more likely than women to have HPV-related oral cancers: Out of 17,626 cases, 73 percent were among men.

White people also were far more likely to have HPV-related oral cancers than other races — 83 percent compared with 14 percent for blacks and 3 percent for “other” races.

Today’s study, which reviewed data from nine cancer registries, also found that cancers caused by HPV had a good prognosis, possibly because the virus succumbs well to radiation.

The findings were of concern to Dr. Gary Rose, president of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health. “I think we are going to see a continuing rise in oral cancers because of this belief that oral sex isn’t sex,” he said.

“It has been known for years that HPV is the cause of head, neck and throat cancers along with other genital cancers, but [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration] and liberal advocacy groups have withheld this inconvenient fact from the public because it undermines their ‘safer” sex agenda,” said Don Tatro, press secretary for Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and a medical doctor. “The fact is that HPV is a serious health threat, and abstinence and monogamy remain the only successful strategies to prevent HPV.”

The American Dental Association has initiated a public awareness campaign about oral cancer, said Dr. Richard Price, a spokesman. Dentists are trained to look for suspicious lesions in the mouth, he said, but people should pay attention to anything unusual that doesn’t heal or go away in a few days.

A painless “brush test” in dentist offices can detect cancerous cells, said Dr. James Sciubba, an oral pathologist who has studied the technique.

The rise in HPV-related oral cancers should deepen interest in the HPV vaccine, he added. “I’m not an epidemiologist, but I would say that in not too long a period of time, just like the hepatitis vaccine, HPV [vaccine] will become more universalized and involve both genders.”

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