Men May Be at Greater Risk Than Women for Developing HPV-Related Cancers

HPV-positive oral cancers are on the rise.

A new analysis from the National Cancer Institute suggests that the number of HPV-positive oral cancers among men could rise significantly in the next decade, possibly surpassing HPV-positive cervical cancers among women.

The genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 20 million Americans are currently infected and about 6 million are infected each year.

Using population-based cancer registry data, the researchers found that between 1988 and 2004, oropharyngeal cancers related to HPV increased by 225 percent, with men accounting for the majority of cases. Relying on U.S. Census projections and age-period-cohort models, they projected a 27 percent rise in cases by 2020.

More than 40 types of HPV are spread during genital, oral or anal sex with an infected partner—some are low-risk (wart-causing) while others are high-risk (cancer-causing). In most cases, the body's own immune system gets rid of HPV within about two years of infection. But if the body cannot clear the infection, it can develop into several cancers, including oropharyngeal and cervical, which is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women worldwide.

Gardasil, the only approved vaccine for young men and women, is effective against two types of cancer-causing HPV and two types of wart-causing HPV. Cervarix is an HPV vaccine approved only for women.