Could the HPV Virus Increase Your Risk of Throat Cancer?

Having the HPV vaccine may protect your well-being against cancer of the sexual organs and anus, but the HPV virus also puts your wellness at risk of cancers of the throat. This is according to a new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, which found that infection with certain types of the HPV virus significantly increases the risk of oropharyngeal cancers.


Cancer Research UK scientists at the University of Oxford, and others, looked at the blood samples of 938 patients with head and neck, oesophageal (gullet) and oropharyngeal cancers, and compared them to 1,599 people without the disease. They discovered that more than a third of the oropharyngeal cancer patients also carried antibodies to a protein from the HPV16 virus called E6. This is one of HPV’s key cancer-causing proteins, and the researchers could detect the antibodies even in samples taken more than 10 years before the cancer was diagnosed, while less than 1% of people without cancer carried the antibodies. If you have antibodies against this HPV protein, it suggests that HPV’s cancer-causing processes have been activated in your body before.


According to Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, ‘HPV is an extremely common virus. About 8 out of 10 people will be infected with the virus at some point in their lives. Practicing safer sex may reduce the risk of getting or passing on HPV, but condoms won’t stop infections completely. If the HPV vaccine can also protect against oral HPV infections and cancers, then it could have a broader potential protective effect, but we don’t have enough research yet to tell us.’


She added, ‘At the moment, we know [the HPV vaccine] protects against pre-cancerous changes in the cervix, vulva, vagina and anus, as well as reducing the risk of genital warts. So it’s important to reduce inequalities, and to aim for high uptake of the vaccine. And more research is needed to understand more about HPV infections in the mouth – how they are spread, how easy it is for the body to get rid of them, and what happens when cancer develops – so that we can learn how to reduce the burden of HPV infection in future.’

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