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Single Males and Smokers At a Higher Risk of HPV-Related Oral Infections

Update Date: Jul 03, 2013 12:49 PM EDT

HPV, the human papillomavirus, can lead to genital warts and cervical cancer. Within the past decade, educating young girls about HPV has been a focal point for medical professionals as more girls are advised to get vaccinated against the virus. More recently, boys have also been recommended to get the vaccine. Even though men cannot get cervical cancer, getting them vaccinated at a young age could prevent them from unknowingly infecting girls. As more attention is placed on HPV especially after Hollywood Actor, Michael Douglas stated that HPV could cause oral cancer, a new study found that single men and smokers are at a greater risk of developing oral infections that could turn into cancers from HPV.

"Some types of HPV, such as HPV16, are known to cause cancer at multiple places in the body, including the oral cavity," the lead author, Christine M. Pierce Campbell, Ph.D., M.P.H., said. Campbell is a postdoctoral fellow at the Moffitt's Center for Infection Research in Cancer. "We know that HPV infection is associated with oropharyngeal cancer, but we don't know how the virus progresses from initial infection to cancer in the oral cavity."

The study, conducted by a research team from the Moffitt Cancer Center, the National Cancer Institute, Mexico and Brazil, found that within the first year, only 4.5 percent of the male participants had an oral HPV infection. When the researchers specifically looked at the HPV16 infection, since it is more deadly, they found that less than one percent of the participants had the virus. On top of that, less than two percent of the men in the study had a cancer-causing form of oral HPV.

Based on the profiles of the infected participants, the researchers concluded that HPV-related oral infections and cancers are more likely to occur in smokers and in single men. However, the results from this HPV Infection in Men Study also indicated that an infection in healthy men is rare and will usually resolve on its own after a year. Furthermore, since the researchers did not find that many cases of HPV-related oral infections, the researchers believe that more studies need to be done to identify men's risk factors.

"Additional HPV natural history studies are needed to better inform the development of infection-related prevention efforts," Anna R. Giuliano, Ph.D. said according to Medical Xpress. Giuliano is the director of Moffitt's Center for Infection Research in Cancer. "HPV16 is associated with the rapid increase in incidence of oropharyngeal cancer, most noticeably in the United States, Sweden and Australia, where it is responsible for more than 50 percent of cases. Unfortunately, there are no proven methods to prevent or detect these cancers at an early stage."

The study was published in The Lancet.

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