Matthew Herper, 07.21.10, 04:15 PM EDT
HPV–known for causing cervical cancer–is emerging as the leading cause of throat cancer in men. Should they get the vaccine too?
Martin Duffy, a Boston consultant and economist, thought he just had a sore throat. When it persisted for months, he went to the doctor and learned there was a tumor on his tonsils.
Duffy, now 70, had none of the traditional risk factors for throat cancer. He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink and has run 40 Boston marathons. Instead, his cancer was caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted and a common cause of throat and mouth cancer.
HPV tumors have a better prognosis than those caused by too many years of booze and cigarettes. But Duffy “is in the unlucky 20%” whose cancer comes back–despite rounds of chemotherapy and radiation that melted 20 more pounds off a lean 150-pound frame. Now the cancer has spread throughout his throat, making eating and talking difficult. “I made my living as a public speaker,” he says. “Now I sound like Daffy Duck.” Duffy believes he has only a few months left. “How do you tell the people you love you love them?” he asks.
Most strains of the HPV virus are harmless, but persistent infections with two HPV strains cause 70% of the 12,000 cases of cervical cancers diagnosed annually in the U.S. Other forms of the sexually transmitted virus can cause penile and anal cancer, and genital warts. The HPV throat cancer connection has emerged in just the last few years and is so new that the government doesn’t track its incidence. Researchers believe it is transmitted via oral sex. But top researchers estimate that there are 11,300 HPV throat cancers each year in the U.S.–and the numbers are growing fast as people have been having more sexual partners since the 1960s. By 2015 there could be 20,000 cases. For more surprising discoveries about HPV, read here.
OMG – I am choking – could there be a headline filled with more fear than this one……cancer causing sex virus? This is called marketing, dear readers….a great title will grab your attention – you are reading this aren’t you? You choke and say OMG – maybe I SHOULD get the vaccine….and boom – they grab you hook line and sinker.
One 70 year old man with throat cancer – 2.4 women per 100,000 who die from invasive cervical cancer vs. 18,600 adverse reactions (many of them life threatening and life altering) and 75 deaths. Those are the facts. Do not let a great headline sway your judgment.