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News / February 20, 2014

Oral cancer risk in young adults

by Guy Hiscott

Young adults are at a higher risk of developing oropharyngeal cancer (OPSCC), and the human papillomavirus (HPV) may be the reason why.

Researchers analysed 1,603 adults younger than 45 who had been diagnosed with invasive OPSCC between 1973 and 2009.

OPSCC increased by 60% among people younger than 45 between 1973 and 2009.

The study also found that the rate of HPV-related OPSCC had risen among young adults who have never smoked or drink in moderation.

Farzan Siddiqui, the study’s co-author and director of Henry Ford’s head and neck radiation therapy programme, says: ‘The growing incidence in oropharyngeal cancer has been largely attributed to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, which led to an increased transmission of high-risk HPV.’

During the same period, the rate of OPSCC more than doubled (113%) among whites, but decreased significantly (52%) among African-Americans.

OPSCC patients were also four times more likely to develop a secondary cancer than the rest of the population.

Dr Siddiqui concludes: ‘The predominance of oropharyngeal cancer in this age group suggests either nonsexual modes of HPV transfer at a younger age or a shortened latency period between infection and development of cancer.’

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