Expert Health Articles

Beyond Tobacco and Alcohol: The Emerging Trend of HPV-Related Head and Neck Cancers in Men

Ankit Modh, MD

Radiation Oncology
The Armes Family Cancer Care Center

As a board-certified radiation oncologist, I've noticed a concerning trend in my patients – an increase in head and neck cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) in middle-aged men. While traditionally head and neck cancers were linked to heavy tobacco and alcohol use, we are now seeing a shift in the causes of these cancers, with HPV becoming a leading cause.

HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to a range of cancers, including cervical, anal, and oropharyngeal (throat) cancer. In fact, over 70 percent of all oropharyngeal cancers are now caused by HPV. What's even more worrying is that HPV-related cancers tend to affect a younger demographic, and middle-aged men are often the ones who are diagnosed.

Symptoms of HPV-related head and neck cancer can be subtle, such as a persistent sore throat, difficulty swallowing, or a lump in the neck. Unfortunately, these symptoms are often ignored or attributed to other causes, which can delay diagnosis and treatment. However, early detection and treatment of HPV-related head and neck cancers can significantly improve outcomes.

Treatment may involve surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these. Moreover, the HPV vaccine can help prevent future cases of HPV-related cancers. As a radiation oncologist, I urge men to be aware of the symptoms of head and neck cancer and to seek medical attention if they experience any concerning symptoms.

Additionally, I encourage parents to consider vaccinating their children against HPV, as this can help protect them from developing HPV-related cancers later in life. Let's not forget, it's not just tobacco and alcohol that put men at risk of head and neck cancer.

We need to raise awareness about the link between HPV and head and neck cancers in men and work to prevent the spread of this virus. By educating ourselves and others, we can help reduce the impact of this disease on middle-aged men and the broader population.