Oropharyngeal cancer can be hard to spot because it develops in places that are hard to see. Signs and symptoms to look out for include:
- A sore throat that doesn’t go away or the feeling that something is caught in your throat
- Lumps or thickening tissues along the neck or throat
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your jaw or tongue
- Hoarseness or a change in your voice
- Earaches and/or pain when you swallow
If any of these symptoms last for more than two weeks, let your dentist know.
It is estimated that HPV causes approximately 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancer. The number of cases of oropharyngeal cancers caused by HPV is on the rise. For example, according to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the number of HPV-related throat cancer cases doubled from 1999–2015 (Figure), with the greatest increase seen among men.
Rise in HPV-Related Oropharyngeal Cancers, 1999–2015
Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) is very common. It is estimated that more than 8 out of 10 adults have been infected with HPV by the time they are 45 years old. Most of the time, HPV infections clear up without causing any problems. But, sometimes the virus stays in the body and may cause cancer later in life.
HPV vaccination is the best way to prevent HPV infections. The HPV vaccine helps protect against infection from a virus that may lead to cancer.
Oropharyngeal Cancer and HPV
HPV is a leading cause of oropharyngeal (or-oh-FARE-in-jee-al) cancer. Oropharyngeal cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that develops near the back of the mouth and throat (Figure), in places like the
- back or base of the tongue
- soft part of the roof of the mouth (soft palate)
The HPV vaccine was first offered to girls in 2006, and since that time, there has been a significant drop in HPV infections among teenage girls. Now offered to both boys and girls, experts say the HPV vaccine could prevent nearly 90 percent of HPV-related cancers in the United States.
HPV-related cancers develop years after a person is infected with the virus. Getting the vaccination as young as recommended is the best way to protect against the virus. The HPV vaccination can help protect older children and some adults, though an additional dose might be needed (Table).
The CDC recommends that
- Children aged 11–12 years, who do not have health conditions that make it difficult to fight infections, should get two doses of the vaccine.
- Males and females aged 15–26 years, who have not been vaccinated, should get three doses of the vaccine.
- Individuals aged 9–26 years, who have a health condition that makes it difficult to fight infections, should get three doses of the vaccine.
HPV Vaccine Safety
- The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC monitor and report harmful side effects related to HPV vaccines. To date, most side effects reported are mild and similar to other vaccines.
- The CDC reports that the vaccine is safe, with more than 100 million doses given in the United States since 2006.
- The American Dental Association (ADA) and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) encourage dentists to support and recommend the use of the HPV vaccine.
Experts say the HPV vaccine could prevent nearly 90 percent of HPV-related cancers in the United States.