A review conducted at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston suggests that high rates of oropharyngeal cancers, particularly cancers of the tonsil and base of tongue, may be due to oncogenic human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
While the overall incidence of head and neck cancers has fallen in the United States, the rate of oropharyngeal cancers is stagnant.
Dr. Erich M. Sturgis and Dr. Paul Cinciripini say that the stagnate incidence rates of oropharyngeal cancers, particularly among men under 45 years old, may be due to the rising prevalence of oropharyngeal exposure to an oncogenic virus.
According to them, the literature points to exposure to HPV - especially strain 16 - as having the strongest association to oropharyngeal cancers.
The authors, however, suggest that a recently approved HPV vaccine may ultimately have a significant impact on the incidence of oropharyngeal tumours.
"While the cervical cancer and dysplasia prevention policy of HPV16/18 vaccination of young women and adolescent females are commended, we fear that vaccination programs limited to females will only delay the potential benefit in prevention of HPV16/18 associated oropharyngeal cancers, which typically occur in men," the authors say.
"Encourage the rapid study of the efficacy and safety of these vaccines in males and, if successful, the recommendation of vaccination of young adult and adolescent males," they conclude.
The review has been published in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.