Researchers from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit say that the human papillomavirus (HPV) could be to blame for the increase among young adults of oropharyngeal cancers.
Their findings indicate an overall 60 percent increase from 1973 to 2009 in cancers of the base of tongue, tonsils, soft palate and pharynx in people younger than 45.
In whites, the increase was 113 percent, but among blacks, the rates actually declined by 52 percent during the study time frame. Nonetheless, the five-year survival rates from these cancers are still worse in blacks than in whites.
A potential connection
Said study lead author Farzan Siddiqui, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Head & Neck Radiation Therapy Program in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Henry Ford Hospital:
The growing incidence in oropharyngeal cancer has been largely attributed to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, which led to an increased transmission of high-risk HPV. We were interested in looking at people born during that time period and incidence of oropharyngeal cancer. Not only were we surprised to find a substantial increase in young adults with cancer of the tonsils and base of tongue, but also a wide deviation among Caucasians and African Americans with this cancer.
The retrospective study used the SEER (Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results) database for information on people under 45 diagnosed with invasive squamous cell oropharyngeal cancer between 1973 and 2009. This data does not record HPV infection, so the researchers used a surrogate indicator for HPV infection, tumor grade. The study included more than 1,600 patients, the overwhelming majority of whom were ages 36 to 44 and white.
The study was presented at the 55th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) in Atlanta.
Added Dr. Siddiqui:
The predominance of oropharyngeal cancer in this age group suggests either non-sexual modes of HPV transfer at a younger age or a shortened latency period between infection and development of cancer.
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