Oropharyngeal (OP) cancers used to be caused predominantly by carcinogen exposure (tobacco). Now, this has changed. Patients are being diagnosed at a younger age and with human papilloma virus (HPV) positive tumors. Men have a harder time clearing the virus from their system, i.e. decreased immune response, and have a high incidence of cancers in the head and neck region. Now here is a paradox. Men (9000 cases/year) with a higher number of oral sex partners would be at a higher risk of an OP cancer. Women (2000 cases/year), however, have a noted decrease risk, with increased number of partners. One thought is with an early exposure to HPV, women generate a better immune response than men, and leading to an overall lower cancer rate. Now, don’t take it that an increased number of partners for a woman is preventative.
Obviously, abstinence is the best prevention. There is an approved vaccine that stimulates an immune response in male and female patients with several injections and can greatly reduce the risk of an OP cancer and other HPV related viruses. Ask your PCM about this for your children, as it it best given during childhood before activity starts. Adults are highly likely to have been exposed to this virus.
Now, the good news is that most people generate an immune response to this virus, regardless of vaccination status, just as you would the common cold and recover without issue. The key word is most. The CDC does estimate that there approximately 11,000 OP caners per year, and vaccines would dramatically reduce the number.