HPV, the fueling force behind cervical cancer, is leaving its mark on men. It is now the top cause of throat cancers. White men in their 50s are five times more likely to have an HPV oral cancer compared to the same population of women.
“We weren’t testing for HPV that long ago and we didn’t really understand that they were HPV-mediated tumors, they were just non-smokers who had throat cancer,” says Dr. Phillip Andrews, who is an otolaryngologist on medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.
For reasons unknown, HPV-linked cancers respond better to treatment and are less lethal than other throat cancers. Including ones linked to smoking.
“Probably 70% of patients who go through combined therapy - which is radiation and chemotherapy - and this takes about seven weeks,” says Dr. Andrews. “Most of those people in six months to a year at their routine follow-up they will tell me ‘I never felt better in my life.’”
Early diagnosis and treatment always makes for a better outcome. While there is no definitive screener for these cancers, experts are finding the most common first sign of HPV-linked throat cancer is a lump in the neck.
“Kids - it’s common when they get a sore throat, they get a lump in their neck. But with adults they’re not supposed to have lumps. And if they have a lump that doesn’t go away then they need to have it checked out,” says Dr. Andrews.
A word to the wise - speak up if you have any suspicion of cancer.