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HPV may be responsible for increase of oral cancer in young adults

By Dental Tribune International
September 26, 2013

DETROIT, USA: Researchers from the U.S. have linked the growing number of adults under the age of 45 with oropharyngeal cancer to the human papillomavirus (HPV). From a review of cancer data spanning a 36-year period, the researchers observed a substantial increase in young adults with cancer of the tonsils and base of the tongue. In addition, they noted a wide deviation between Caucasians and African-Americans.

The researchers used data on more than 1,600 patients aged 36 to 44 who had been diagnosed with invasive oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma between 1973 and 2009.

Overall, the study revealed a 60 percent increase in cancers of the base of the tongue, tonsils, soft palate and pharynx in people younger than 45 during the period. While the rate of oral cancers decreased by 52 percent among African-Americans, it increased by 113 percent among Caucasians. However, compared with Caucasians and other races, African-Americans had a lower five-year survival rate. The five-year survival for the whole study group was 54 percent.

According to the researchers, 50 to 65 percent of patients underwent surgical resection for their tumors. Patients who had both surgery and radiation therapy had the highest five-year survival rate, they said.

Although the growing incidence of oral cancer has been largely attributed to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s and changes in sexual practices, the current study of people born during this period suggested that other factors may contribute to this development. "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," explained Dr. Farzan Siddiqui, lead author of the study.

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 36,000 people in the U.S. will contract oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers in 2013, with about 6,850 people dying of these cancers.

The study was conducted at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Data was obtained from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results database. The findings were presented on Sept. 23 at the 55th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology in Atlanta.

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