Thursday, June 2, 2011

HPV and throat cancer

Waiting in the radiation waiting room daily, you get to know the other patients. The other women were mostly if not entirely, breast cancer patients. We had a group of regulars that I would see in other places too. Occasionally I would be surprised by newcomers such as the young (YOUNG!) woman who used to make my lattes in the company coffee stand outside my building. The men for the most part weren't so chatty. I assumed that most were prostate cancer patients. One day though I spent an hour with a throat cancer patient about my age.

Guess how I got it?

Well I wasn't going to answer that. I didn't make him guess why I had breast cancer (bad karma? not sending e-mails that contained a threat of bad luck if I didn't send them? hormone replacement? stress? fat? bad genes?) but if he had held a gun to my head, I would have guessed tobacco and alcohol abuse, which seems to be the cause of most throat cancers. Steve's family had a couple of these cases for instance. Anyrate, he answered before I could sputter a reply.

I got HPV from my mother as she gave birth to me.

Really. This was news to me but I researched it when I returned home. The human papilloma virus (HPV) is one of the few viruses proven to cause cancer. Generally it is associated with cervical cancer, which worldwide, is the second largest killing cancer among women. Not so much here as pap smears are an effective screen  in diagnosing its early signs. It is for the most part (aside from possible exposure while being born which seems to be rare) sexually transmitted. Maybe this man never had sex of any kind so that's what his onc came up with.

This week there was an article in the WSJ linking a huge rise in throat cancer in men ( huge is defined here as a 225% increase in cases between 1988 and 2004 with about 4500 new cases now per year) with HPV infection. Fortunately for these men, this type of throat cancer is much easier to cure than the alcohol/tobacco induced kind but it still is not pleasant. Researchers are recommending that perhaps men too should have the vaccine against HPV that is recommended for young women. There was no mention of women with HPV induced throat cancer. Presumably just as many of them come through the birth canal. They did correlate number of sex partners with the disease but no real explanation for the disparity between the incidence between the sexes. Although the authors of the study predict that the incidence will increase, one would think that the vaccination of women would slow the rate down. It must have a very long incubation period if it took 50 years for my radiation buddy du jour to have symptoms assuming he was right about the source of the disease.

It is a beautiful, cool, dry day here and I am taking a break from running as my feet feel battered.

1 comment:

Teri Bernstein said...

Uh, Sue, I am imagining a way that HPV could be transmitted to the throat...


Blog Archive