From Houston Public Media:
The national increase in cases of oropharyngeal cancer related to the human papilloma virus is troubling, because there is no screening test to catch it early, like the Pap test for cervical cancer.
The oropharynx is the area of the throat behind the mouth, and includes the tonsils and the base of the tongue. Oropharyngeal cancer is increasing in both men and women, but for reasons that aren’t well understood, male patients are outnumbering female patients by five to one, according to Dr. Erich Sturgis, a head and neck surgeon at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
“It’s usually a man, and he notices it when he’s shaving. He notices a lump there,” Sturgis said. “That lump is actually the spread of the cancer from the tonsil or the base of the tongue to a lymph node. That means it’s already stage three at least.”
In the U.S., the number of oropharyngeal cancers caused by HPV are predicted to exceed the number of cervical cancers by 2020, Stugis said.
“With cervical cancer, we’ve seen declining numbers well before we had vaccination, and that’s due to the Pap smear being introduced back in the late 50s,” he said. “But we don’t have a screening mechanism for pharynx cancer.”
Research on an effective screening test for early-stage pharynx cancer is still underway.
The reasons for the disproportionate effect on men are unknown. One theory is that people are engaging in more oral sex, but that doesn’t explain why men are more affected than women. Some suspect hormonal differences between men and women may be involved, and others hypothesize that it takes longer for women to “clear” the viral infection from their genitals, compared to men, according to Sturgis.