Can HPV Cause Throat Cancer?

HPV is the most common Sexually Transmitted Infection present on this planet. The WHO (World Health Organization) states that almost 80 percent of individuals will contract the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) at least once in their lifetime. There are two types of HPV, namely, low-risk HPV and high-risk HPV. Low-risk HPV is the more commonly occurring type of HPV in most individuals. Genital warts may form on either the penis, vagina, anus, scrotum or the thighs. These warts may or may not occur when you are diagnosed with low-risk HPV. In case they do, the body is known to fight the virus away due to the activation of the immune system when such abnormal skin formation is detected.

High-risk HPV, on the other hand, is not half as common as low-risk HPV and is extremely fatal for children and adults. Though this type of HPV is usually healed by the body, it can lead to cervical cancer in women and anal, penile or testicular cancer in men. The most painful and bizarre of all possibilities is contracting throat cancer, also known as oropharyngeal cancer. This occurs in the mouth and throat section of the human body. More precisely at the back of the throat along with the base of both, the tonsils and the tongue. 

Which HPV strain causes throat cancer and how can you diagnose it?

  • Oropharyngeal cancer due to HPV is generally associated with a very specific of the over 100 strains of HPV. This strain is known as HPV type-16 and about 1 percent of the world population suffers from this condition. Over two-thirds of Oropharyngeal cancer patients have some DNA present in them that can link them to HPV.
  • There is no specific test to be diagnosed by oral HPV-related throat cancer.  It is during a routine check-up for HPV symptoms that your doctor would check for warts on genitals (and the throat) and unusual cell formations within the bloodstream. The doctor also checks the condition of the throat and looks for the following attributes that indicate a patient is a victim of throat cancer – 
  • Hoarseness in the voice and an overall change in speaking 
  • A swollen tongue in combination with a swollen tonsil
  • Experiencing a painful sensation when trying to swallow anything – be it beverages or solid forms of food
  • Warts in the throat, mouth and around the neck. Also, clusters of warts present inside the mouth near the cheeks or on the neck
  • Absurd and sudden loss of weight
  • Patches in colors ranging from red to white present on the tonsils
  • The swelling of lymph nodes that generally occurs in response to infections and tumors
  • Frequent earaches

Be informed that not all cases related to HPV eventually turn out to be health issues.  Also, it can take up to a year for symptoms of throat cancer to be visible after contracting HPV.

What part of the population is at risk?

Speaking on a global scale, approximately 1 percent of mankind will at some point in their lives be diagnosed with type 16 HPV infection, leading to throat cancer. 

The most harmful habit a person can have is smoking, this is no hidden secret. People who already have an active HPV infection are putting their lives in the hands of the devil by yet smoking cigarettes. Multiple studies have evaluated patients and come to the conclusion, that smoking while you have an HPV infection, drastically increases the risk of developing cancer cells in the throat and bloodstream. Whether it is HPV-positive throat cancer or HPV-negative throat cancer, smoking will only worsen the effects and reduce your overall lifespan.

Treatment options for HPV – positive throat cancer

As this comes under the category of high-risk HPV infections it must be treated at its early stages or the cancer can spread uncontrollably. Just like the goal for normal throat cancer patients is to ensure that each and every cancer cell is eradicated from the throat section, the same goal remains for HPV-positive throat cancer. The methods and processes used to treat HPV-positive throat cancer have demonstrated exceptional results time and again – making it a curable disease in the majority of cases.

  • Stage 0 throat cancer – This is the first stage of throat cancer when cancer cells are growing on the superficial layers of the throat, not the deeper layers. The best solution to get rid of throat cancer at stage 0 is immediate surgery before it spreads to nearby tissues and lymph nodes. Usually, the top layers of tissue within the throat are extracted; along with a small edge of normal tissue to follow-up regularly and check if the cancer cells are growing again.

  • Stage I and II throat cancer – When a patient reaches these stages of throat cancer, the disease is on its path to becoming more critical by every passing day. Oropharyngeal cancer at this stage must be treated with surgery (Mohs surgery) and/or radiation therapy. To erase the possibility of regrowth of cancer-causing cells the doctor would prefer to treat the patient with radiation therapy followed by Chemotherapy. If you are ready to take the risk by just choosing one mode of treatment, then it is expected of you to be aware of the side effects of one and both forms of treatment. Better late than never right?

  • Stage III and IVA throat cancer – By the time the cancer reaches this stage, the cancer-inducing cells have already spread into nearby tissues, cells, organs, and lymph nodes present all around the neck. The odds of recovering from such an intense stage of throat cancer are rarely in favor of the patient but yet there are cases of successful treatment. Either chemoradiation or a combination of radiation and cetuximab is used to stop the spreading of cancer cells and kill as many cells as possible from the originating source. 

After chemoradiation is completed, there are yet traces of cancer cells that can easily regroup and build on a large scale once again. To avoid this recurring cancer situation, surgery is performed and lymph node dissection takes place (if cancer cells are yet in the neck).

There are two vaccines known as Cervarix and Gardasil. They have been developed with an intention to protect people from high-risk HPV infections such as Oropharyngeal and other types of genital cancers. Only males and females ranging from the age of 9 to 26 are administered this vaccine because successful experimentation on such age groups has led to positive results. What will happen if adults are given this vaccine is unknown, thus it has not been approved for their usage as yet.

3 doses are needed to be injected over a 6-month period, ideally within intervals of 2 months. Keep in mind that the Cervarix and Gardasil vaccines were made to protect the human body from contracting high-risk HPV infections by strengthening and equipping their immune systems. These vaccines were not made to treat people who have already been infected by the Human Papilloma Virus.