human papilloma virus

Mouth, throat cancers caused by HPV on the rise, especially among Canadian men

Author: Sonja Puzic, Staff

Mouth and throat cancers caused by the human papilloma virus have been rising steadily over the past two decades, with a “dramatic” increase among Canadian men, according to a new report from the Canadian Cancer Society.

The special report on HPV-associated cancers, released Wednesday as part of the 2016 Canadian Cancer Statistics breakdown, says the rate of mouth and throat cancers in men is poised to surpass the rate of cervical cancer diagnoses in women.

Researchers and doctors have known for decades that certain strains of HPV – the most commonly sexually transmitted disease in Canada and the world — cause cervical cancer. But the latest Canadian cancer statistics show that only 35 per cent of HPV cancers are cervical, and that about 33 per cent of HPV cancers occur in males.

The latest data show that about one-third of all HPV cancers in Canada are found in the mouth and throat.

Between 1992 and 2012, the incidence of HPV-related mouth and throat cancers increased 56 per cent in males and 17 per cent in females. In 1992, the age-standardized incidence rate (or ASIR) of those cancers was 4.1 per 100,000 Canadian males. In 2012, it was 6.4 per 100,000 males. In females, the rate was 1.2 in 1992 and 1.4 in 2012.

‘I thought I was done’
Three years ago, Dan Antoniuk noticed a lump on his neck and initially thought that it was just a swollen gland. But when the Edmonton father went to see a doctor, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer, caused by HPV.

“I was devastated. I thought I was done,” Antoniuk, 61, told CTV News. “It shattered me, it shattered my family and affected everybody sitting in the waiting room.”

Antoniuk said that until his diagnosis, he had never heard of HPV cancers in men. His doctors told him that, despite the late stage of his cancer, his prognosis was still good with the right treatment. He underwent surgery, radiation and chemotherapy and although the treatments took a toll on his body, he’s now doing well.

“The end result is I am here, I am healthy and I can do most of the same things I have done before,” he said. “The ultimate message is: Be aware of your body and be aware of the fact that this could be something more serious and there is hope now.”

Dr. Hadi Seikaly, a professor and oncology surgeon at the University of Alberta, said doctors are seeing more HPV-related cancers in both men and women.

“The surprising thing is that we’re just seeing the front end of the epidemic,” he told CTV News. “And it is an epidemic … cervical cancer rates are coming down and head, neck cancer rates are going up.”

Doctors say that oropharyngeal cancers (which include the back of the throat, the base of the tongue and the tonsils) and cancers of the mouth used to be mostly found in older patients who smoked, drank heavily or had other health issues. But it’s now more common to see HPV-related throat and mouth cancers in younger, otherwise healthy patients.

“HPV is without question driving the dramatic increase we are seeing in oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC),” Dr. Joseph Dort, the chief of otolaryngology head and neck surgery at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, told CTV News.

“Our most recent data shows that about 70 per cent of our new cases of this cancer are HPV positive. Recent studies suggest that oropharyngeal cancer will become the most common HPV-associated malignancy by the year 2020, surpassing cancer of the cervix,” he said in an email.

The changing face of the disease
Jennifer Cicci was shocked to learn that she had oral cancer caused by HPV after a lump appeared on the side of her neck in the fall of 2013.

The dental hygienist and mother of four from Brampton, Ont., said she was an otherwise healthy woman in her 40s who didn’t have any of the typical risk factors associated with head and neck cancers.

Cicci’s surgeon removed a baseball-sized mass of tissue from the back of her throat and a section from the back of her tongue. She also underwent laser surgery and radiation, with painful side effects. Still, she feels she “got off easy,” despite the entire ordeal.

In some cases, mouth and neck cancer treatments can have devastating effects on a patient’s ability to speak and eat. Some patients have had parts of their tongues and even their voice boxes removed.

The good news, doctors say, is that HPV-related cancers seem to be more treatable. More than 80 per cent of patients will survive if the cancer is caught in time.

“I felt like having this gave me an opportunity to raise awareness of something that I felt was becoming an epidemic,” Cicci said.

Dr. Brian O’Sullivan, a head and neck cancer specialist at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, said that HPV infections in the throat and mouth are largely linked to sexual contact, but he has also seen patients who have had very few sexual partners and little experience with oral sex.

Calls for more widespread HPV immunization
The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that nearly 4,400 Canadians will be diagnosed with an HPV-caused cancer (that can include cervical, vaginal, anal and oral) and about 1,200 will die from it in 2016.

The society is focusing its messaging on cancer prevention and informing the public about the HPV vaccine. The two HPV vaccines approved by Health Canada are Gardasil and Cervarix.

HPV immunization is already available through publicly-funded school programs across the country, starting between Grades 4 and 7, up to age 13. But while the vaccine is offered to girls in all provinces and territories, only six provinces — Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec – also offer it to boys.

The Canadian Cancer Society is calling on the remaining provinces and territories to expand HPV immunization to boys.

Robert Nuttall, the society’s assistant director of health policy, also said that adults should talk to their doctors to see whether they can benefit from the HPV vaccine. However, there is currently no scientific evidence showing the benefits of HPV vaccines in older adults.

In Canada, Gardasil is approved for use in females aged 9 to 45, and males aged 9 to 26. Cervarix is approved for use in females between the ages of 10 and 25, but is currently not approved for boys and young men.

The vaccine works best in people who have not been exposed to HPV. That’s why it is given to school-aged children and teens as a preventative measure.

It will be a while before scientists can conclusively determine whether HPV vaccines can prevent throat and neck cancers, since it can take many years for an HPV infection to cause malignancies.

In the meantime, Dr. Seikaly says it’s important for Canadians to understand this disease could happen to anybody, because the modes of HPV transmission aren’t fully understood.

“They need to understand the signs and symptoms of it. And those include pain in your throat, difficulty swallowing, neck masses, ulcers in your mouth and throat,” he said. “And they need to make sure during their physical that doctors do look in their mouth and their throat.”

Early symptoms of mouth and throat cancers can often be vague, but they also include white or red patches inside the mouth or on the lips, persistent earaches and loose teeth.

As a dental hygienist who was also a cancer patient, Cicci urges regular exams of the mouth and throat during dental visits.

“What I try to do is to break down the stigma that is attached to (HPV),” she said. “The fact of the matter is, while most of the time it is still being sexually transmitted … we don’t know all the modes of transmission.”

October, 2016|Oral Cancer News|

Recognizing oral carcinoma

Author: Amber Crossley, MSN, ARNP, FNP-BC

Oral carcinoma is identified as one of the top ten cancers worldwide, accounting for nearly 2% to 5% of all cancer cases.1, 2 In 2014, there were an estimated 42,440 new cases of oral and pharyngeal carcinoma.

Males have a greater risk of developing the disease compared to females.2 Black males in particular are amongst the highest at-risk group for developing oral carcinoma.2 Oral carcinoma typically develops after the age of 50, with the majority of cases occurring between the ages of 60 and 70.2 When initially diagnosed with oral carcinoma, more than 50% of people will have metastases.3

The most common causes of oral carcinoma are related to tobacco use and alcohol consumption.4 In fact, 75% of all cases of oral carcinoma may be caused by the combination of tobacco and alcohol use.4


However, it has also been extrapolated that chronic trauma to the oral mucosa, such as in the case of ill-fitting dentures or the consumption of high-temperature foods, is a leading modifiable risk factor for oral carcinoma.1,5 Dietary deficiencies of vitamins A, C, E, selenium, and folates may also contribute to the development of malignant cancerous lesions in the oral cavity.6

While cases of oral carcinoma have decreased over the last few years in the United States, oropharyngeal cancer is increasing in incidence.4 The rise in cases of oropharyngeal cancer may be related to viral and infectious diseases; however, the mechanisms are largely unclear. Some of these infections and viruses include human papilloma virus (HPV), periodontitis, candida albicans, syphilis and herpes simplex virus.7 However, for the purposes of this case presentation, only oral cavity cancer will be discussed.

A Non-Healing Oral Lesion
MC is an 82-year-old white female who visited her primary care provider’s office complaining of a mouth sore. The sore was present for approximately six months, and grew increasingly painful.

She has worn dentures for more than 10 years, and was accustomed to the typical soreness with irritation sometimes associated with everyday denture use. With this particular occurrence, the soreness lingered in the same area and lasted longer than any previous experience.

MC attempted to alleviate the soreness with an existing prescription for hydrocodone. This treatment proved unsuccessful. MC scheduled an appointment with her primary care provider, as she assumed the pain was the result of ill-fitting dentures.

At MC’s initial appointment, the provider noticed a 7mm erythematous lesion on the lower interior aspect of her right molar, and suggested it could be the result of her ill-fitting dentures. Because MC had exhausted her hydrocodone, the provider prescribed tramadol and a viscous lidocaine suspension for pain. She was told to follow-up with her dentist once the sore completely healed in order to be fitted with new dentures. She was instructed to refrain from denture use until the sore had resolved. There were no further follow-up instructions given.

One week after the initial visit, MC returned to the primary care provider’s office because of increasing pain and discomfort. During this visit, the provider noted the sore had ulcerated edges that were friable and showed little improvement. She was referred immediately to an otolaryngologist for the suspicion of carcinoma of the oral cavity.

Patient History
MC is an 82-year-old widow. She is a Medicare recipient living in government-subsidized housing for the elderly. MC smoked tobacco between the ages of 17 and 52 at a rate of 1.5 packs per day, or 53 pack years. During the same 35 year time frame, she drank 1 to 2 alcoholic beverages daily.

Over the past 10 years, she lost a total of 40 pounds without any lifestyle modifications to justify the weight loss. At the time of MC’s initial primary care visit, she weighed 91 pounds. Additional patient history included hypothyroidism, mitral stenosis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, coronary artery disease, arthritis and hypertension.

Clinical Features
Oral carcinoma is defined as cancer involving the floor of the mouth, hard palate, buccal mucosa, interior tongue, retromolar trigone, or alveolar ridge.8 Premalignant oral carcinoma may present as a painless white patch known as leukoplakia, or a painful reddened patch identified as erythroplakia.9 In addition to the aforementioned signs, the cervical lymph nodes may be enlarged.10 Any erythroplakia or leukoplakia lesions that appear to be non-healing in an older individual should be deemed suspicious.10

Differential Diagnosis

Refer to the table below to help you rule out other conditions.


Early identification of oral carcinoma offers patients the greatest chance for successful treatment and survival following diagnosis.5

An initial patient history that includes tobacco use, alcohol consumption, sexual practices, denture use, oral trauma, infections of the oral cavity and a history of present illness should be obtained.8 It is important to understand that patients complaining of ill-fitting dentures are four times more likely to develop an oral lesion that is cancerous.5

Oral lesions caused by trauma increase the likelihood of carcinogen absorption from tobacco and alcohol in the oral mucosa. This absorption may disrupt the deoxyribonucleic acid of the mucosal cells.1

Following a thorough history, the provider can perform a complete head and neck examination. During oral cavity inspection, a mirror and fiberoptic exam should also be performed.8 A combination of inspection and palpation for lumps or abnormalities within the tissue of the oral mucosa is the definitive mechanism used to screen for oral cancer as identified by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.4 In the presence of a potentially cancerous oral lesion, a surgical biopsy should be completed to confirm a diagnosis of oral carcinoma.9

Imaging studies can be used to detect and identify metastases of oral carcinoma. Computed tomography is the preferred imaging study performed at the site of the primary tumor.11 This study can identify the extent of the tumor, as well as lymph node involvement.10,12 Additionally, a chest x-ray is recommended in order to determine whether or not the oral carcinoma originated in the lungs or metastasized to the lungs. The lungs are the primary site for metastases of oral carcinoma.12 More than 90% of oral cavity cancers are considered to be squamous cell carcinoma.11

Laboratory studies should also be considered in addition to imaging studies. Serum ferritin, alpha anti-trypsin, and alpha-antiglycoprotein levels can be elevated in patients with advanced cancer of the head or neck region.12 Laboratory studies alone cannot determine the presence of oral carcinoma. However, they can aide in identifying the extent and progression of the cancer.12

Case Outcome
A surgical biopsy was performed in order to identify the causative organism. MC was diagnosed with stage IV malignant squamous cell carcinoma of the right retromolar trigone, as well as squamous cell carcinoma of the right middle and lower lobe of the lung. The patient had no lymph node involvement.

Because of her increased age and nutritional status, MC did not qualify for multimodal treatment. Instead, she is being treated with aggressive radiation therapy over a period of 12 weeks.

Understanding key factors related to MC’s case — increased age, history of tobacco and alcohol use, and ill-fitting dentures — is paramount when identifying the painful, non-healing, 7 mm lesion in her oral cavity as a potential diagnosis of oral carcinoma.

Implications for Practice
Due to the increase in oral health disparities, the Institute of Medicine released a report revealing a new demand for non-dental health care providers to perform screenings for oral diseases as well as offering prevention advice and referral to preventative services.13

Increasing interprofessional collaboration amongst dentists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, physicians and medical students has shown to be effective in implementing the head, ears, eyes, nose, oral cavity, and throat (HEENOT) assessment into practice.14 While this is similar to the head, ears, eyes, nose and throat assessment, it allows for the integration of the oral cavity into the evaluation of the head and neck exam.

One study, conducted between 2008 and 2014 at New York University, revealed that the result of HEENOT implementation led to 500 patient referrals to dental clinics for suspicious oral lesions.14 Preventative measures at the primary care level should focus on the greatest risk factors (tobacco use, alcohol consumption and ill-fitting dentures).

Research has shown that due to the sometimes vague and misleading symptoms of early-onset oral carcinoma, a diagnosis may be prolonged by up to 6 months.12 Although screening for oral cancer in healthy individuals without risk factors may not be beneficial, evidence supports oral screenings by primary care providers for high-risk patients.3, 4, 15

Given the fact that only 30% of patients ages 65 years and older have dental insurance coverage, the primary care provider must screen patients who present with many risk factors for oral carcinoma.14,16 Because there are a greater number of primary care providers in comparison to dentists, they have the potential to increase awareness and detection of oral carcinoma.16

While the leading cause for oral carcinoma is tobacco use, it is recommended that the primary care provider encourage patients who use tobacco to employ smoking cessation products.4 Second, the primary care provider should educate patients on the harmful effects of daily alcohol use.12 Third, providers should stress to patients the importance of regular dental check-ups and denture fittings as an essential tool for maintaining good oral health.5

Amber Crossley practices as an advanced registered nurse practitioner in Jacksonville, Florida.

1. Piemonte ED, et al. Relationship between chronic trauma or the oral mucosa, oral potentially malignant disorders and oral cancer. J Oral Pathol Med. 2010;39(7):513-517.

2. National Cancer Institute. Stat fact sheets: oral cavity and pharynx cancer.

3. Rethman MP, et al. Evidence-based clinical recommendations regarding screening for oral squamous cell carcinoma. JADA. 2010;141(5):509-520.

4. U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. Oral cancer: screening.

5. Manoharan S, et al. Ill-fitting dentures and oral cancer: a meta-analysis. Oral Oncol. 2014;50(11):1058-1061.

6. Freedman ND, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and head and neck cancer risk in a large United States prospective cohort study. Int J Cancer. 2008;122(1):2330-2336.

7. Meurman JH. Infectious and dietary risk factors of oral cancer. Oral Oncol. 2010;46(6):411-413.

8. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Head and neck cancers.

9. Jefferson GD. Adult with oral cavity lesion. AAO-HNSF Patient Month Program. 2011;40(5): 1-25.

10. Arya S, et al. Head and neck symposium: imaging in oral cancers. Indian J Radiol Imaging. 2012.22(3):195-208.

11. Akram S, et al. Emerging patterns in clinico-pathological spectrum of oral cancers. Pak J Med Sci. 2013;29(3):783-787.

12. Scully C. Cancers of the oral mucosa. Medscape. 2016.

13. Institute of Medicine. Improving access to oral health care for vulnerable and underserved populations.

14. Haber JH, et al. Putting the mouth back in the head: HEENT to HEENOT. Am J Public Health. 2015;105(3):437-441.

15. American Family Physician. Screening for the early detection and prevention of oral cancer.

16. Cohon LA. Expanding the physician’s role in addressing the oral health of adults. Am J Public Health. 2013;103(3);408-412.

October, 2016|Oral Cancer News|

Men with throat cancer will soon outnumber women with cervical cancer In The US

Author: Carrie Feibel

The national increase in cases of oropharyngeal cancer related to the human papilloma virus is troubling, because there is no screening test to catch it early, like the Pap test for cervical cancer.

The oropharynx is the area of the throat behind the mouth, and includes the tonsils and the base of the tongue. Oropharyngeal cancer is increasing in both men and women, but for reasons that aren’t well understood, male patients are outnumbering female patients by five to one, according to Dr. Erich Sturgis, a head and neck surgeon at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“It’s usually a man, and he notices it when he’s shaving. He notices a lump there,” Sturgis said. “That lump is actually the spread of the cancer from the tonsil or the base of the tongue to a lymph node. That means it’s already stage three at least.”

In the U.S., the number of oropharyngeal cancers caused by HPV are predicted to exceed the number of cervical cancers by 2020, Stugis said.

“With cervical cancer, we’ve seen declining numbers well before we had vaccination, and that’s due to the Pap smear being introduced back in the late 50s,” he said. “But we don’t have a screening mechanism for pharynx cancer.”

Research on an effective screening test for early-stage pharynx cancer is still underway. The reasons for the disproportionate effect on men are unknown. One theory is that people are engaging in more oral sex, but that doesn’t explain why men are more affected than women. Some suspect hormonal differences between men and women may be involved, and others hypothesize that it takes longer for women to “clear” the viral infection from their genitals, compared to men, according to Sturgis.

One of Sturgis’s patients, Bert Noojin, is an attorney in Alabama. He felt a little knot in his neck in early 2011. It took three trips to his primary care doctor, then a visit with an otolaryngologist before he was referred for a biopsy. Noojin was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer, but he still felt fine.

“It was still hard for me to believe I was sick in any way,” he recalled. “I didn’t even have a serious sore throat.”

After being diagnosed, Noojin came to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for a second opinion and to pursue treatment. It was less than three months from when he first felt the knot, but an oncologist warned him the cancer was spreading fast.
“He said ‘Well, you need to start treatment right away’ and I said, ‘Well, do I have a week or 10 days to go home and get some things in order?’ and he said ‘No.’”

“He said ‘If you leave here, and you’re not part of our treatment plan when you leave here, I don’t think we’ll be able to help you.’ That is how far this disease had progressed, in such a very short time.”

The prognosis for HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer is good, especially compared to patients whose throat cancer is caused by heavy use of tobacco or alcohol, according to Sturgis. Between 75 and 80 percent of patients with the HPV-related type survive more than five years.

But the treatment is difficult, and can include “long-term swallowing problems, long-term problems with carotid artery narrowing, and long-term troubles with the teeth and jaw bone, and things that can cause a need for major surgeries later.”

In the summer of 2011, Noojin began chemotherapy and radiation at MD Anderson. He struggled with pain, nausea, and swallowing, and had to get a temporary feeding tube.

“Your throat just shuts down,” he said. “You’re burned on the inside. Just swallowing your own saliva, as an instinct, hurts.”

Noojin lost 45 pounds during treatment but feels lucky to have survived. He went back to his law practice in Alabama.

Noojin learned that cancers related to HPV, which is sexually transmitted, are cloaked in shame and guilt.

He experienced this first-hand when his marriage fell apart during his recovery. His wife was traumatized by the difficult months of treatment, he said. In addition, she irrationally blamed herself for giving him the virus, even though he was probably exposed many years earlier. He tried to comfort her and dispel her guilt, but they eventually divorced.

“I was married over two decades, but I was married previously, and she was married previously,” he said. “It just makes no sense for any of this to have a stigma.”

An estimated 80 percent of America women and 90 percent of men contract HPV at some point in their lives, usually when they’re young and first become sexually active. But the cancers caused by HPV can take years to develop.

“It’s a virus. It’s not anybody’s fault,” Noojin said.

He echoed the public health experts in calling for an end to the silence and shame, and a shift to a focus on prevention.

“All of what I went through, and all of what hundreds of thousands of men, and women, because of cervical cancer – what they have gone through is avoidable for the next many generations … if we just got serious about making sure our kids get vaccinated.”

The series of three shots can be given as early as age nine, but must be completed before the age of 26 to be effective. Currently, the completion rate for young women in the U.S. is less than 50 percent. Among young men, it’s less than 30 percent. That’s why experts warn these particular cancers will still be a problem decades from now.

September, 2016|Oral Cancer News|

Cancer-Preventing Vaccines Given To Less Than Half Of US Kids

Author: Carrie Feibel

U.S. regulators approved a vaccine to protect against the human papilloma virus (HPV) in 2006, but cancer experts say misconceptions and stigma continue to hamper acceptance by both doctors and parents.

Eighty percent of Americans are exposed to the human papilloma virus in their lifetimes. Some strains of HPV can cause genital warts, but most people experience no symptoms and clear the virus from their systems within a year or two. But for an unlucky minority, the virus causes damage that, years later, leads to cervical cancer, throat cancer, and other types.

Researchers at MD Anderson are frustrated that ten years after the first vaccine arrived on the market, only 42 percent of U.S. girls, and 28 percent of boys, are getting the three-shot series.

The series can be given to girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 26, but the immune response is strongest at younger ages, before sexual activity begins.

n 2007, then-Texas governor Rick Perry proposed making the HPV vaccine mandatory for all preteen girls.  At the time, the vaccine was only approved and marketed for girls.

Dr. Lois Ramondetta, a cervical cancer specialist at MD Anderson, remembers the outcry.

“A lot of people felt that was the right idea, but the wrong way to go about it. Nobody really likes being told what to do, especially in Texas,” Ramondetta said. “I think there was a lot of backlash.”

Eventually, the legislature rejected Perry’s plan, even though it included an opt-out provision. Ramondetta said too many politicians focused on the fact that HPV is sexually transmitted. That had the unfortunate effect of skewing the conversation away from health care and into debates about morality and sexuality. She said the best and most accurate way to discuss the vaccine is to describe it as something that can prevent illness and death.

“I try to remove the whole concept of sexuality,” Ramondetta said. “When you’re talking about an infection that infects 80 percent of people, you’re really talking about something that is part of the human condition. Kind of like, it’s important to wash your hands because staph and strep are on all of us.”

Today, only Virginia, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. mandate HPV vaccines.

“Our vaccination rates are really terrible right now,” Ramondetta said.

In Texas, only 41 percent of girls get all three of the required shots, and only 24 percent of boys.


Kara Million of League City finds those numbers upsetting.  Million survived two rounds of treatment for cervical cancer.

“Even if you had a chance that your kid could have any kind of cancer, and you could have given them two shots or three shots for it? To me, it’s a no-brainer,” Million said.

Million always got regular Pap tests. But she missed one appointment during a busy time following the birth of her second child. When she went back, it had been only 15 months since her last Pap test. But the doctor found cervical cancer, and it had already progressed to stage 3.

“That was a huge surprise,” Million recalled.

Million had chemotherapy and radiation at MD Anderson. But a year later the cancer returned.

The next step was surgery, a radical procedure called a total pelvic exenteration.

Million and her husband looked it up online.

“When I was reading it, I was just, like, ‘this is so barbaric, there is no way they are still doing this in this day and age,’” Million said. “‘For certain, in 2010 we have better surgeries to do than this.’”

But there weren’t better surgeries. This was her only option.

“I had a total hysterectomy; they pulled all the reproductive system out,” she explained. “They take your bladder out, they take part of your rectum, they take part of your colon, they take your vagina, all of that in your pelvic area comes out.”

The surgery took 13 hours, and left her with a permanent colostomy bag and urostomy bag.

“At that point, with two kids at that age – I think they were one-and-a-half and three – there’s no option. I’m a mom, so I’m going to do whatever it takes so they can have their mom.”

Most women survive cervical cancer if it’s caught early enough. But Million’s cancer was diagnosed at a later stage, where only a third of women make it past five years. She has already made it past that five-year anniversary, and she’s not wasting any time.

She now volunteers as a peer counselor at MD Anderson to other cervical cancer patients, and she urges parents to vaccinate their kids.

“If most of cervical cancer is caused by HPV, and now we have something that can help prevent what I went through, and what my friends went through, and the friends that I lost?” Million says, “I don’t understand why people don’t line up at the door to get their kids vaccinated for it.”

But Dr. Ramondetta said parents can’t consent to the vaccination if pediatricians or family doctors don’t offer it. And they’re not offering it nearly enough, she said.

Some doctors don’t know how to broach the topic, fearing it will lead to a difficult conversation about sexual behavior. Some mistakenly think boys don’t need it, although they do – not only to protect their partners from HPV, but to protect themselves against oropharyngeal and anal cancers, which are also caused by HPV.  Ramondetta added that some doctors incorrectly assume that giving the vaccine will promote promiscuity.

Ramondetta says extensive research actually shows it doesn’t.

“There should be this understanding of an ethical responsibility. That this is part of cancer screening and prevention, just like recommending mammograms and colonoscopies.”

In Texas, only 41 percent of girls get all three of the required shots, and only 24 percent of boys.

*This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.

September, 2016|Oral Cancer News|

Incisionless robotic surgery offers promising outcomes for oropharyngeal cancer patients

Author: press release, Henry Ford Health System

A new study from researchers at Henry Ford Hospital finds an incisionless robotic surgery – done alone or in conjunction with chemotherapy or radiation – may offer oropharyngeal cancer patients good outcomes and survival, without significant pain and disfigurement.

Patients with cancers of the base of tongue, tonsils, soft palate and pharynx who underwent TransOral Robotic Surgery, or TORS, as the first line of treatment experienced an average three-year survival from time of diagnosis.

Most notably, the study’s preliminary results reveal oropharyngeal cancer patients who are p16 negative – a marker for the human papilloma virus, or HPV, that affects how well cancer will respond to treatment – have good outcomes with TORS in combination with radiation and/or chemotherapy.

“For non-surgical patients, several studies have shown that p16 positive throat cancers, or HPV- related throat cancers, have better survival and less recurrence than p16 negative throat cancers,” says study lead author Tamer Ghanem, M.D., Ph.D., director of Head and Neck Oncology and Reconstructive Surgery Division in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Henry Ford Hospital.

“Within our study, patients treated with robotic surgery had excellent results and survival, irrespective of their p16 status.”

Study results will be presented Sunday, Sept. 18 at the 2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) annual meeting in San Diego.

Led by Dr. Ghanem, Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit was among the first in the country to perform TORS using the da Vinci Surgical System. TORS offers patients an option to remove certain head and neck cancer tumors without visible scarring, while preserving speech and the ability to eat.

With TORS, surgeons can access tumors through the mouth using the slender operating arms of the da Vinci, thus not requiring an open skin incision.

Unlike traditional surgical approaches to head and neck cancer that require a large incision and long recovery, TORS patients are able to return to their normal lives only a few days after surgery without significant pain and disfigurement.

For the study, Dr. Ghanem and his colleagues wanted to take a closer look at the effectiveness of TORS for oropharyngeal cancer patients. They reviewed overall three-year survival, cancer control and metastasis, as well as the effect of p16 status on these variables.

The study included 53 Henry Ford oropharyngeal cancer patients who had TORS. Among them, 83 percent were male, 77 percent were Caucasian, and the mean age was 60.8 years. Thirty-seven percent had TORS alone, while more than 11 percent had TORS with radiation therapy, and more than half received chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Thirty-seven percent had TORS alone, 11.4 percent received radiation therapy, and 50 percent received chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Eighty-one percent of patients had p16+ disease.

The study shows patients with a p16 negative marker had high survival (100 percent) and low cancer recurrence when TORS was the first line of treatment, as well as when TORS was followed by chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

The majority of patients (63 percent) were able to receive a lower dose of radiation after TORS, which reduces the risk of radiation side effects.

While Dr. Ghanem notes the study’s results are not enough to change clinical practice, it does demonstrate that TORS alone or in conjunction with adjuvant radiation or chemotherapy is an acceptable treatment option for oropharyngeal cancer patients regardless of p16 status.

September, 2016|Oral Cancer News|

Rate of HPV-associated cancers on the rise in U.S., according to new CDC report

Author: Andrew J. Roth

Though the first preventive human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 10 years ago, the incidence of HPV-associated cancers is on the rise.

From 2008 to 2012, the number of HPV-associated cancers diagnosed per year increased by approximately 16 percent compared with the previous five-year period, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nearly all sexually active individuals in the U.S. will get at least one type of HPV in their lifetime, making it the most common sexually-transmitted infection in the country. And though about 90 percent of HPV infections will clear a person’s system within two years, some infections persist and can cause cervical cancers and some types of vulvar, oropharyngeal, penile, rectal and cancers.

There are over 40 HPV types, and vaccines are available for HPV types 16 and 18 (which account for 63 percent of HPV-associated cancers), as well as for types 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58 (which account for an additional 10 percent). Type 16 is the most likely to persist and develop into cancer.

In this new report, the CDC analyzed data from its own National Program of Cancer Registries as well as the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database. In total, 38,793 HPV-associated cancers (11.7 per 100,000 persons), on average, were diagnosed annually from 2008 to 2012 compared with 33,369 diagnoses (10.8 per 100,000 persons) from 2004 to 2008. Researchers then multiplied the number of cancers that could have been associated with HPV by the rate actually believed to be attributable to HPV, and found that an estimated 30,700 (79 percent) of the cancers could have been attributed to the virus.

The report highlights numerous challenges to controlling HPV-related cancers. First, not enough adolescents are receiving all three HPV vaccines. The CDC recommends that all males and females should start the HPV vaccine series at the age of 11 or 12 years. The CDC also notes that males can receive the series through age 21 and females can receive it through age 26.

According to this CDC report, though, in 2014, just 60 percent of females aged 13 to 17 received at least one dose, 50.3 percent received at least two doses and 39.7 percent received three doses. Among males, the rates were worse: 41.7 percent received at least one dose, 31.4 percent received at least two doses and 21.6 percent received three doses.

Additionally, differences exist between races. In the 2008 to 2012 study, rates of cervical cancer were higher among blacks compared with whites and higher among Hispanics compared with non-Hispanics. Rates of both vulvar and oropharyngeal cancers were lower, however, among blacks and Hispanics versus whites and non-Hispanics, respectively. Rates of anal cancer were lower among black women and Hispanics, but higher among black men, compared with their counterparts.

HPV-associated cancer rates also differed based on geographic location: Utah had the lowest rate (7.5 per 100,000 persons) while Kentucky had the highest rate (14.7 per 100,000). The study’s authors noted that most states with rates higher than the overall U.S. rate (11.7 per 100,000) were located in the South.

Study authors pointed out that most cervical cancers can be prevented by regularly screening women aged 21 to 65 for precancerous lesions, though there are no effective population-based screening tools for other HPV-associated cancers.

The authors also reviewed two challenges with the report itself. Though the CDC and SEER databases are reliable, the authors wrote, “no registry routinely collects or reports information on HPV DNA status in cancer tissue, so the HPV-attributable cancers are only estimates.” The authors also noted that race and ethnicity data came from medical records and may be inaccurate in a small number of cases.

HPV vaccination could be offered to schoolboys to decrease risk of cancer

Author: Andrew Gregory

A vaccination could soon be offered to every schoolboy to help tackle the rising rate of some cancers in men, a Government minister revealed on Thursday. Health chiefs are poised to drop their opposition to extending the jab to protect against the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is already given to all Year 8 girls. The likely move follows growing alarm over cancers of the mouth, throat, neck and head, as well as penile and anal cancer, amid growing evidence that they are caused by HPV.

The NHS (National Health Service) spends more than £300m a year treating head and neck cancers, while giving the vaccine to all boys would cost just £22m, supporters say.

Health Minister Jane Ellison has revealed that the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) is investigating the change, with its verdict due early next year. Mrs Ellison – who has previously described giving the HPV jab to girls only as “a little odd” – said: “I understand the wish for it to be available to all adolescents regardless of gender.

“The JCVI is reconsidering its initial advice on this and modeling is under way to inform its consideration. We will look at that as a priority when we get it.

“I recognize the frustration that people have expressed and I have talked personally to Public Health England officials who are involved in the modelling work.”

The minister said money was already available to extend the vaccination program if the JCVI said yes, adding: “The Government have always acted on its recommendations.” The looming move comes after a Commons debate heard that men are six times more likely than women to have an oral HPV infection – yet they are not vaccinated.

Conservative MP Sir Paul Beresford , a part-time dentist himself, said up to 70% of throat cancers are caused by HPV, adding: “The statistics make for hideous reading.”

HPV is also linked to around 80% of anal cancer in men, almost half of penile cancers and is responsible for nine out of 10 cases of genital warts. A national vaccination program HPV was introduced for 12 and 13-year-old girls as long ago as 2008, to prevent cervical cancer.

But experts agree the program does not create sufficient “herd immunity”, prompting a recent decision to begin a trial to give the jab to some gay men. Around 40,000 men who have sex with men (MSM) will be vaccinated, targeting under-45s who attend sexual advice clinics.

A campaign group called HPV Action has called for all boys to be vaccinated as soon as possible – warning 367,000 are at risk of developing a preventable disease in later life, for every year of delay.

Frontline Cancer: vaccines for HPV near guarantee

Author: Dr. Scott Lippman

Dear Scott: “Our son, who is 25, went to the GP yesterday and his doc wasn’t sure about giving the Gardasil I had been bugging him to get. Didn’t you tell me about the benefits of the HPV vaccination?”

The note was from a friend. It was personal, but also a topic of wide public interest and one that remains much discussed among cancer researchers and physicians. That’s why I’m answering my friend here.

Roughly 12 percent of all human cancers worldwide — more than 1 million cases per year — are caused by viral infections (called oncoviruses) and attributed to a relatively small number of pathogens: human papilloma virus (HPV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Given the emphasis upon other causal factors of cancer, such as genetic mutations or environmental sources, it’s a statistic that’s not well known nor, I would argue, fully appreciated.

Human viral oncogenesis is complex, and only a small percentage of the infected individuals develop cancer, but that 12 percent translates into more than 500,000 lives lost each year to virus-caused malignancies. Many of those deaths are preventable because effective vaccines already exist for HPV and HBV. Right now. No future discoveries required.

I want to specifically talk about the HPV vaccine. Controversy has constrained its proven effectiveness as a public health tool, but if used as prescribed, the HPV vaccine could essentially eliminate cervical and other HPV-caused cancers. Infection with HPV is very common. It’s estimated that at least 80 million Americans are affected. HPV is actually a group of more than 200 related viruses. There is no cure for HPV, but the infection typically clears on its own without lingering effect.

Forty types of HPV are easily spread through direct sexual contact. They fall into two categories: Low-risk HPVs that do not cause cancer, but can cause skin warts on or around the genitals, anus, mouth or throat. And high-risk HPVs (mostly two strains, type 16 and type 18) that cause approximately 5 percent of all human cancers worldwide. High-risk HPV strains drive the rates of cervical (the leading cause of cancer deaths in women in many developing countries), anal and a dramatically increasing subset of oropharyngeal (the tonsil and parts of the throat and tongue) cancers among men in the United States and other developed countries.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved three vaccines for preventing HPV infection: Gardasil, Garadsil-9 and Cervarix. They have strong safety records and a near-guarantee of dramatically reducing the risk of infection. But they are not widely used. The HPV vaccination rate in the U.S. is just 36 percent for girls and 14 percent for boys (and even lower for Hispanics, blacks and the poor).

The chief reason, it has been argued, relates to the recommended age of vaccination: 11-12 years. Because cancer-causing HPV viruses are transmitted through sexual contact, the idea of vaccinating a young girl or boy as a preventive measure strikes many people (i.e. parents) as premature, unsettling or enabling. My friend and colleague, Howard Bailey, M.D., director of the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center and a national leader on this topic, believes this attitude costs lives. “We need to shift focus from behavior associated with infection to preventing major cancers,” he says.

There are other factors as well. For example, full vaccination requires three doses, so persistence is required. Safety concerns continue about the vaccine (perhaps part of a larger misplaced mistrust of vaccines in general). And there remains limited public understanding of HPV or HPV-related diseases, especially in men.

The reality is that these vaccines work best if they are given at an early age before exposure to HPV. However, as Howard explained, if this window is missed, the FDA includes indications where the recommendation rises to age 26, to get vaccinated for at least some cancer-causing strains of HPV. Howard recommends every young, unvaccinated adult receive at least the 9-valent HPV vaccine, “which can provide protection against five additional HPV types that cause cancer and are less common than types 16 and 18.” There is the potential for protection against HPV types that a person hasn’t yet been exposed to and if a person hasn’t been exposed to the common HPV types (6, 11, 16 and 18), it can provide protection against them as well.

In a recently published statement paper, the American Society of Clinical Oncology called for a broad, concerted effort by health care professionals and policymakers to increase awareness of the evidence and effectiveness of HPV vaccination. It should be routine. The public health benefit is obvious and indisputable. I completely agree.

Here’s a corollary to consider: Vaccines for HBV have been available for many years and are a routine part of pediatric immunizations in the United States. In the past, countries like Taiwan and Korea suffered endemic HBV infections and high rates of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or liver cancer. In the 1980s, these countries implemented universal infant HBV vaccination policies that have resulted in a dramatic 80 percent decline in HBV infections, cases of hepatitis and, more importantly, reductions in HCC incidence and mortality.

Every day, you can read headlines about research to find new treatments and cures for the many diseases called cancer. Progress is painfully slow and uneven. We’ve been fighting this war for decades. Preventing cancer altogether is a better approach and with cancers caused by HPV, we have the right weapon already at hand. We just need to use it.

Suicide: A Major Threat to Head and Neck Cancer Survivorship

Authors: Nosayaba Osazuwa-Peters, Eric Adjei Boakye, and Ronald J. Walker
, Mark A. Varvares

TO THE EDITOR: The article by Ringash that was recently published in Journal of Clinical Oncology provided a compelling narrative of both the improvements made in head and neck cancer survivorship, as well as the challenges created by longer-term treatment and associated toxicities. There are currently at least 280,000 head and neck cancer survivors in the United States. As the article by Ringash stated, the upturn in head and neck cancer survivorship in the last three decades has coincided with the emergence of human papilloma virus-positive oropharyngeal cancer, as well as a decrease in tobacco use in the general population. These make it a challenge to isolate survival gains as a function of improved therapy from the natural prognostic value of a diagnosis of human papilloma virus-positive oropharyngeal cancer. Whatever the case, the fact that more than one-quarter million Americans are currently alive after a diagnosis of head and neck cancer means there needs to be a more deliberate effort in longer-term management of treatment-related toxicities, some of which are lifelong.

We agree with Ringash’s conclusion that new models of care need to be developed in response to the significant quality-of-life issues faced by patients with head and neck cancer. The Institute of Medicine publication From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor: Lost in Transition, also cited by Ringash, called for a clear individualized survivorship plan for cancer patients. There is a serious need for this model to be implemented universally in head and neck cancer management. Although we agree with Ringash that patients with head and neck cancer face competing mortality risks from second primary cancers and other noncancers, what we found lacking was recognition of an important competing cause of mortality in head and neck cancer survivors: suicide.

Suicide associated with head and neck cancer is not just a competing cause of death; it is also a quality-of-life issue. Many authors agree that head and neck cancer is among the top cancer sites associated with suicide. One national study of 1.3 million cancer patients even found that head and neck cancer carried the highest risk of suicide among cancer survivors. As a quality-of-life issue as well as a competing cause of death, the elevated risk of head and neck cancer-related suicide, although it peaks during the first few years after diagnosis, remains virtually throughout the course of the cancer survivor’s life. Additionally, some other well-known quality-of-life issues associated with head and neck cancer (eg, pain, disability, esthetic compromise and body image issues, psychosocial function, anxiety, emotional distress, and depression) are all associated with suicide. Therefore, it is difficult to have a discussion of quality-of-life interventions in head and neck cancer without addressing the issue of suicide.

Thus, we believe that suicide in patients with head and neck cancer should be addressed as a major threat to cancer survivorship. Cardiovascular disease, for example, is a known competing cause of death among patients with head and neck cancer, and is listed in Figure 4 of Ringash’s article. Cardiovascular disease may be managed for a long time; however, when a cancer patient decides that he/she is “better off dead,” a finality, or terminality, is invoked. This is quite unique to suicide compared with other competing causes of death.

Thus, in the urgent call for “new strategies and models of care to better address quality-of-life issues and meet the needs of survivors of head and neck cancer,” we believe it is pertinent that suicide is recognized as an important threat to head and neck cancer survivorship.

DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2015.65.4673; published online ahead of print at on January 19, 2016

To read or download the full article, please visit:

*This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.
March, 2016|Oral Cancer News|

Cancer gene may aid researchers find how immune system can help treat cancer or predict outcomes

Author: Daniela Semedo, PhD

University of Cincinnati scientists have recently discovered that DEK, a human gene known to cause cancer, can be detected in the plasma of patients with head and neck cancer. DEK may help clinicians understand how a person’s immune system can be used to treat cancer or predict outcomes for patients.

The information, titled “The DEK oncogene can be detected in the plasma of head and neck cancer patients and may predict immune response and prognosis,” was presented via poster at the Multidisciplinary Head and Neck Cancer Symposium Feb. 18-20 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“Head and neck cancer remains the sixth most common cancer worldwide,” said Trisha Wise-Draper, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Hematology Oncology at the UC College of Medicine, in a news release. Wise-Draper is a member of both the Cincinnati Cancer Center and UC Cancer Institute and she was the principal investigator on this study.

“Although infection with the human papilloma virus, or HPV, has emerged as a factor for determining outcomes for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma [head and neck cancer], leading to less intense treatment strategies for patients, no plasma biomarkers exist to predict tumor response to treatment or possible relapse,” she said.

“One potential plasma biomarker is programmed by the human DEK gene, which has been found to promote cancer. DEK RNA and protein are highly increased in tissue specimens from several tumor types, including head and neck cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma, and antibodies to DEK also are detected in patients with autoimmune diseases like juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and lupus,” Wise-Draper said. “Our previous work has shown that DEK is highly and universally present in head and neck cancer tissue specimens regardless of stage or HPV infection, and has suggested tumor-association. In addition, white blood cells (macrophages) secrete DEK protein, leading to the hypothesis that DEK may be present in the plasma of cancer patients and could be correlated with aggressiveness of disease and patient outcomes.”

DEK mRNA and protein expression are up-regulated in the tissue of patients with head and neck cancer, with previous studies demonstrating that DEK is highly expressed in tissue samples of patients with head and neck cancer, regardless of the cancer stage or status of HPV infection.

Wise-Draper and colleagues used whole blood from either patients with newly diagnosed and untreated head and neck cancer or age-matched normal healthy participants. Plasma was separated from the samples, and an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), a test that uses antibodies and color change to identify a substance, was administered.

The results revealed that DEK could be detected in the plasma of patients with head and neck cancer and in healthy controls. However, compared to people without cancer, those with cancer had decreased levels of DEK, which inversely correlated with plasma levels of interleukin-6.

“We found that DEK was present in the plasma of both healthy control subjects and those with head and neck cancer,” Wise-Draper said. “Overall, DEK was decreased in head and neck cancer patients compared to healthy patients, but it was inversely correlated with IL-6, which is secreted by T-cells (white blood cells that play a role in immunity) and triggers an immune response in the plasma.

“The immune system’s reaction to the tumor also appeared to be linked with high DEK plasma levels. So, although DEK presence is increased in head and neck cancer tissue, plasma DEK levels are decreased in patients when compared with healthy individuals and are further decreased in patients with advanced cancers,” she said.

The results from this study, along with DEK’s link to IL-6 levels, indicate that high levels of DEK may mean better outcomes for patients.

“Furthermore, high DEK levels in the plasma may predict better immunotherapy in terms of cancer treatment,” Wise-Draper said. “Further analyses are ongoing to determine whether DEK levels predict response to various treatments, correlate with the body’s immune response, and whether DEK presence in the serum (in blood, serum includes all proteins not used in blood clotting and all the electrolytes, antibodies, antigens, hormones or any external substances, like drugs) will predict remaining disease or early relapse.”

“This information will be important to verify DEK plasma measurements as a clinically useful test and may give insight to future personalized and targeted treatment strategies for head and neck cancer,” Wise-Draper said.

March, 2016|Oral Cancer News|