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Throat Cancer Symptoms Differ when Caused by HPV

Update Date: Mar 21, 2014 03:06 PM EDT

Throat and mouth cancer, also known as oropharyngeal cancer, is often associated with smoking. However, in recent years, researchers have found more cases of oropharyngeal cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Now, according to a new but small study, early signs of oropharyngeal cancer caused by HPV appear to manifest differently in terms of the symptoms that show up first when compared to oropharyngeal cancer caused by other factors.

"We're seeing this in younger, healthy people who don't smoke," said Dr. Terry Day, senior researcher of the study and a specialist in head and neck cancers at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston according to WebMD

For this study, researchers examined the medical records on 88 patients who were diagnosed with mouth and throat cancer. The diagnoses occurred from 2008 to 2013. The majority of the patients, with 71 of them, had HPV-positive cancer. For many of these HPV-positive patients, the first symptom was a lump in the neck. For patients without HPV, only 18 percent of them had a lump in their neck as their first symptom.

Other common symptoms of throat and mouth cancer that the HPV-positive patients reported were a persistent sore throat and trouble swallowing. Roughly 50 percent had a sore throat and 41 percent had difficulty swallowing. For the HPV-negative cancer group, only 28 percent had a persistent sore throat and 10 percent had problems swallowing.

Despite the differences the researchers found between the symptoms caused by HPV and other factors, experts reported that larger studies need to be conducted in order to confirm these findings.

The study, "Initial Symptoms in Patients with HPV-Positive and HPV-Negative Oropharyngeal Cancer," was published in JAMA Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery.

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