Cancer of the Mouth and Throat (cont.)
IN THIS ARTICLE
What Are Causes of Mouth and Throat Cancer?
Today the understanding of oral health and the cause of cancers (especially those of the oropharynx) has changed dramatically. Historically most cancer of the head and neck was attributed to tobacco and alcohol use. Today we know that this explanation is both incomplete and often inaccurate.
Anywhere from 50%-90% of oropharynx squamous cell carcinomas are known to be caused by HPV (human papillomavirus) infection. Testing the cancers shows evidence of HPV infection. Such cancers are said to be HPV positive or HPV+.
The human papillomavirus can cause a sexually transmissible viral infection. Eighty percent of people between 18 and 44 have had oral sex with an opposite sex partner, likely accounting for much of the oral HPV infections observed. There are many forms of HPV. The high risk subtypes of HPV are responsible for 90% of cancer of the cervix. They also play an important role in other genital area cancers. These same subtypes of HPV, especially types 16 and 18, are found present in oropharyngeal area cancers.
HPV+ cancers occur in people who may or may not have a history of excessive tobacco or alcohol use. HPV negative, HPV-, cancers of the oropharynx are virtually always found in those with the history of heavy alcohol and tobacco use.
Other risk factors for mouth and throat cancer include the following:
These are risk factors that can be avoided in some cases. For example, one can choose to not smoke, thus lowering the risk of mouth and throat cancer. The following risk factors are outside of a person's control:
The relationship between these risk factors and an individual's risk is not well understood. Many people who have no risk factors develop mouth and throat cancer. Conversely, many people with several risk factors do not. In large groups of people, these factors are linked with higher incidence of oropharyngeal cancers.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/13/2017
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