Can the HPV vaccination prevent head and neck cancer?

Human Papillomavirus, a virus that can cause many cancers
The late evening news on KEVN Black Hills Fox Monday-Friday
Published: Jun. 21, 2023 at 11:17 AM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - June is national cancer survivor month and whether you are someone in treatment or remission, the journey is a battle worth celebrating and connecting with other survivors. To date, there are 16.9 million cancer survivors across the country. Cancer survivor and journalist Steve Holzer, along with Head and Neck Surgeon Dr. Mark Urken is raising awareness about the drastic increase of HPV-related head and neck cancer.

It’s long been linked to cervical cancer in women but in the last several years, says Dr. Urken as Human Papillomavirus is emerging as a leading cause of head and neck cancers in the United States, “HPV is responsible for the major increase in Oropharyngeal Cancers that we’ve been seeing in the last 10 years.”

Head and Neck cancer includes the upper digestive tract from the mouth to the voicebox even the upper swallowing tube to the esophagus. Dr. Urken says certain types of HPV cause cancer even in men. Every year in the U.S., over 15,000 men get cancers caused by HPV. Cancer survivor Steve Holzer diagnosed 5 years ago with a form of HPV-related neck cancer says he didn’t want to keep his cancer to himself, “I wanted to get the word out to tell people that head n neck cancers exist because 67,000 people in this country get it every year and I wanted people to have an idea to where they could get some help.”

The Cancer Institute says cancer usually takes years, even decades, to develop after a person gets HPV and there is no way to know who will develop cancer or other health problems from HPV. As far as Holzer, his cancer showed up in a lump on his neck, which he found while shaving, “they found cancer so I had to go through 7 weeks of radiation and 6 rounds of chemotherapy.”

Dr. Urken says symptoms include hoarseness, pain or difficulty swallowing, pain while chewing, a lump in the neck, a feeling of a persistent lump in the throat, change in voice, or non-healing sores on the neck but recommends a healthy lifestyle and a stern message for parents, “eating well, exercising, plenty of sleep but avoidance of tobacco, alcohol, and for the next generation make sure parents are getting their children vaccinated against HPV”

Some great news, Holzer is now in his 5th year of being cancer free and says a major resource for him was to join the “Made of More” campaign, a place where he found support and strength, “I wanted everyone to have an idea to where they can go to get some help.”

Studies say you can protect your child from certain cancers later in life with the HPV vaccine at the age of 11 to 12 years old or before contact with the HPV virus until age 26. Visit Made of More for more information on HPV and head and neck cancer.