Here in the U.S., there has been an increase in human papillomavirus (HPV) being screened in cases of oral cancers, and a recent study conducted at Ohio State suggests that HPV is now the leading cause of cancers of the throat, mouth and neck.
Researchers analyzed 271 tissue samples collected over the last two decades and found a nearly triple-fold increase in HPV-related oral cancer cases in the United States alone. In 1988, data shows that eight out of 1 million people were diagnosed with HPV-related oral cancer. Now the researchers estimate it's 26 out of 1 million.
Previously, tobacco had been the primary cause of oral cancer, and most oral cancer cases were HPV-negative.
[Lead researcher Maura] Gillison's group found that HPV-negative cancers have been cut in half since the 1980s.
HPV-positive cases -- which had made up just 16 percent of oral cancer cases in the 1980s -- comprised more than 70 percent in the 2000s.
"This whole relationship between HPV-related head and neck cancer completely changes our ideas of who is at risk, how to treat the cancer, the prognostics of the cancer, and prevention," Gillison told Reuters Health.
The good news is that people diagnosed with the HPV-positive form of the cancer have a better prognosis, she said, and the cancer is more responsive to treatment.
There is also a potential opportunity for prevention using an HPV vaccine that is approved to prevent anal and cervical cancer, Gillison said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that almost 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV.