Story by: Sara Thompson on February 17, 2023
You’ve likely heard of human papillomavirus (HPV) and may know that it can cause warts on the skin, genitals and mouth. Some variations of HPV cause cancers of the cervix, genitals and anus. Those are not the only places HPV can potentially cause cancer. Research suggests that HPV can cause head, neck and throat cancer. Here’s what you need to know.
HPV is a virus that spreads by coming into contact with the mucous membranes of an infected person. Typically this happens during sexual contact, including vaginal, anal and oral sex. Most people with HPV have no symptoms. A healthy immune system normally will rid the body of HPV without treatment. Some types of HPV cause warts on the skin, genitals or mouth. Some types of high-risk HPV can cause cancer.
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HPV-related cancers include:
There are rare HPV-related cancers of the vulva, vagina and penis.
“Some HPV infections have no symptoms, such as those in the cervix,” said Paul A. Tennant, M.D., head and neck surgical oncologist with Norton Cancer Institute Head and Neck Tumor Program. “That’s why routine cervical screenings are important for people who have a cervix.”
Other signs of HPV can be warts or itching.
“There is no cure for HPV right now,” Dr. Tennant said. “That is why vaccination is so important.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends children, teens and young adults get the HPV vaccine as soon as they are eligible.
Cancer symptoms in the head and neck range from mild to severe and can include:
If you have new, persistent or worsening symptoms, call a health care provider.
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