There are about 50,000 cases of oral cancers diagnosed in the United States every year. The most common risk factor for these diseases is excessive alcohol use and cigarette smoking. But there is a new demographic emerging in people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who don’t have these habits but have oral cancers, especially in males, all linked to HPV, the human papillomavirus, the same virus that is now known to be linked to cervical cancer in women.
“The natural history of the HPV virus in the throat is unknown,” says Eduardo Méndez, MD, associate professor of head and neck surgery at UW Medicine. It is a cancer that is hard to detect and difficult to see because it doesn’t cause a white plaque. HPV-positive cancers form in the back of the throat. The positive thing about these cancers is that they respond very well to treatment, better in fact than oral cancers that are not HPV-positive.
It came as a rather huge surprise to Scott Morris when he was diagnosed with cancer on his tonsil. He was 53 at the time. You can read his story on our website.
Scott went to University of Washington Medical Center and met with Dr. Méndez, who used a daVinci robot to perform a larger tonsillectomy and remove 20 lymph nodes from Scott’s neck area. After radiation therapy, Scott is doing great. But the message here is to be on the alert for any funny symptoms in your throat and not to let them go for too long without having them checked out by a doctor.