Cancers of the head and neck typically occur in the squamous cells lining the moist surfaces inside the mouth, nose, and throat. The general term “head and neck cancer” includes cancer that occurs in the following areas:
- Larynx (the voice box located just below the throat)
- Oral Cavity (cheeks, gums, hard palate, lips, mouth, tongue)
- Paranasal Sinuses and Nasal Cavity (the spaces in the skeletal structure around the nose
- Pharynx (throat), including nasopharynx (upper throat, behind the nose); oropharynx (middle throat, including the soft palate); and hypopharynx (lower throat)
- Salivary glands (at the bottom of the mouth, near the jawbone)
These types of cancers account for approximately 4 percent of all cancers in the United States and are more likely to occur in people over the age of 50.
Significantly, men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with head and neck cancers than women. The reasons for the risk being so much greater among men are varied but may boil down to men being more likely to engage in risky behaviors – including unprotected sex that can lead to an HPV infection.
Oral Sex and the HPV Connection
Each year, more than 10,000 new cases of head and neck cancers are believed to be caused by a particular strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted disease in the US.
The majority of throat cancers among men are now believed to be HPV-related.
How? Well, approximately 80 million Americans have some type of genital or oral HPV infection. It is so common that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that, unless previously vaccinated, almost every sexually active person will get HPV at some point in their lives.
Most people are unaware they have an HPV infection, and the infection eventually clears on its own. However, persistent infections may lay dormant in tissue for decades, causing damage over time and resulting in tumor growth later in life.
Oral HPV is transmitted to the mouth during the skin-to-skin contact of oral sex. An estimated 10 percent of men and 4 percent of women have oral HPV.
The more oral sex partners a person has, the larger the risk of developing HPV-positive head and neck cancer. More than six partners and your risks skyrocket.
The good news is that the HPV vaccine, which was long thought to be relevant only for girls to prevent cervical cancer, is now promoted for boys as well, and it can protect against genital warts, as well as anal and throat cancer caused by HPV.
An HPV infection is by far the great risk factor for head and neck cancer, especially among men.
Additional Risk Factors for Head and Neck Cancers
Men may also be more likely to engage in additional types of risky behavior, doubling down on their risk of developing a head and neck cancer. These additional risk factors include:
- Tobacco and Alcohol Use. Heavy smoking and drinking are the second biggest culprit when it comes to head and neck cancers.
- Marijuana. Research has found a connection between marijuana use and the development of head and neck cancer.
- Environmental inhalants. More men than women continue to be employed in occupations with the threat of exposure to certain environmental toxins linked with head and neck cancers, including asbestos, wood dust, paint fumes, synthetic fibers, and certain metals and chemicals.
The CyberKnife Center of Miami has successfully treated hundreds of head and neck cancer patients with its advances CyberKnife Radiation Technologically which precisely pinpoints and destroys tumors throughout the body, all without any incisions, anesthesia, or pain. Call (305) 279-2900 today to find out what CyberKnife can do for you.