The vaccine that prevents infection by the virus that causes cervical cancer might also prevent some head and neck cancers, a new study shows.
HPV vaccines Gardisil® developed by Merck, and Cervarix™, by GlaxoSmithKline have been shown to prevent the infection of three strains of human papilloma virus that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers. Consequently, researchers wanted to know if preventing HPV infections might also prevent some oral cancers.
Led by Dr. James J. Closmann, a research dentist for the Academy of General Dentistry, researchers have now shown that oral and oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma are linked to the same high-risk HPV strains that cause cervical cancer. The study appeared in the May/June issue of General Dentistry.
"More than 100 strains of HPV have been identified," says Dr. Closmann. "They have been shown to cause other benign and malignant disorders, which now include those in the mouth. Nearly 30,000 new cases of oral and oropharyngeal cancer are reported each year. It's possible that oral and oropharyngeal cancers could be reduced if vaccination were more widespread; however, additional research is needed."
The Centers for Disease Control report that nearly 25 million women are infected with some form of the human papilloma virus (HPV). Of those, more than three million are thought to have one of the four strains known to cause cases of cervical cancer and genital warts.
In a related review to be published in the Oct. 1 issue of Cancer, researchers led by Dr. Erich M. Sturgis and Dr. Paul Cinciripini of the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, showed that men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with head and neck cancers than women.
Despite a drop in numbers of smokers and oral tobacco use, the numbers of head and neck cancers, which include cancers of the larynx, nasal passages/nose, oral cavity, pharynx and salivary glands, have remained the same. In looking at likely reasons for this, the researchers concluded that an increase in exposure to HPV strains linked to cervical cancers may be the cause, and call for vaccinating young men too.
"While the cervical cancer and dysplasia prevention policy of HPV16/18 vaccination of young women and adolescent females are commended," the authors wrote, "we fear that vaccination programs limited to females will only delay the potential benefit in prevention of HPV16/18 associated oropharyngeal cancers, which typically occur in men."