An estimated one in nine American men ages 18 to 69 – 11 million in total – have oral human papillomavirus, which can lead to head, neck and throat cancers. That’s according to a study by researchers from the University of Florida.
The HPV infection is most often seen in gay or bisexual men, men who have genital HPV, and individuals who have had multiple oral sex partners, New York Daily News reports. The most common form of cancer this kind of HPV causes is oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma, a head and neck cancer that is found in the oral cavity, nose, pharynx, larynx, trachea or esophagus, all at the same time.
Ashish Deshmukh, lead researcher, said,
The incidence of this cancer has increased 300% in the last 20 years.
The researchers used data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2011-2014, and found that around 12% of men and 3% of women had oral HPV. Around two million men were at high risk for HPV 16, as well, which is the specific strain that causes the cancers mentioned. This is six times more than the risk for women.
While there is an HPV vaccine for boys and girls alike, but the number of young men who get immunized is much lower than girls: 35% to 57% in 2014. In addition, since the average age of the men most at-risk is older than 26, this makes them too old for the vaccine or puts them at an age where they have already been exposed to HPV.
“We’ve got to vaccinate young boys, because (the) vaccine has the potential to decrease cancer risk,” said Deshmukh. “In the short term, we need to find alternative prevention methods, for example, screening people and identifying precancerous lesions that can be treated.”
The recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that pre-teens ages 11 to 12 get the HPV vaccine before they become sexually active.
The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.