Single men, smokers at higher risk for oral HPV

Smokers and single men are more likely to acquire cancer-causing oral human papillomavirus (HPV), according to new results from the HPV Infection in Men (HIM) study (Lancet, July 2, 2013).

Researchers from Moffitt Cancer Center, the National Cancer Institute, Mexico, and Brazil also reported that newly acquired oral HPV infections in healthy men are rare and when present usually resolve within one year.

HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer is rare, but rates have been increasing rapidly, especially among men, the study authors noted. To determine the pattern of HPV acquisition and persistence in the oral region, they evaluated HPV infection status in oral mouthwash samples collected as part of the HIM study, which was originally designed to evaluate the natural history of genital HPV infections in healthy men.

"Some types of HPV, such as HPV16, are known to cause cancer at multiple places in the body, including the oral cavity," said lead author Christine Pierce Campbell, PhD, MPH, in a news release. "We know that HPV infection is associated with oropharyngeal cancer, but we don't know how the virus progresses from initial infection to cancer in the oral cavity."

During the first 12 months, nearly 4.5% of men in the study acquired an oral HPV infection. Less than 1% of men in the study had an HPV16 infection, the most commonly acquired type, and less than 2% had a cancer-causing type of oral HPV.

These findings are consistent with previous studies showing a low prevalence of oral HPV cancers, the researchers noted. However, the study suggests that the acquisition of cancer-causing oral HPV was greater among smokers and unmarried men.

Additional HPV natural history studies are needed to better inform the development of infection-related prevention efforts, the study authors concluded.

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