When it comes to diseases, the most worrisome are the ones that people can’t see coming and cancers are at the top of the list. According to CNN, there is a current epidemic building of throat and neck cancers in men caused by HPV, the human papillomavirus. HPV comes in many different forms but the one that is causing all of the problems, HPV16, is an oral version of the disease that researchers estimate currently affects 11 million men in the U.S.
Oral HPV is incredibly easy to transmit between one another, and most types of skin-to-skin contact of intimate areas is enough. Although women are also at risk of catching oral HPV, it is over four times more likely to be found in men than women. Scientists are not yet sure whether this has to do with differences in the immune system’s ability to fight off the virus or that women are somehow more resistant in general. All told, about 85 percent of the population will encounter the disease at some point, and the risk is higher for smokers, marijuana users, and sexually promiscuous individuals.
The dangers of contracting oral HPV are not usually apparent for many years after the disease has taken hold. Doctors say that although many cases clear up on their own with no symptoms, some linger in the body for years causing DNA damage that can lead to cancerous tumors. The most common cancers associated with oral HPV are called oropharyngeal cancers, and cases in men have risen more than 300 percent during the past 40 years while the rates among women have declined. NBC News explains that this type of cancer can be extremely painful to manage and often involves surgically removing tonsils and lymph nodes followed by chemotherapy, radiation, and little or no ability to eat without a feeding tube.
Importantly, there is a vaccine available for HPV in humans and men under the age of 26 are strongly urged to help protect themselves by taking action early. If they are over the age of eligibility, or already infected, the vaccine will no longer help. Unfortunately, there are currently generations of men that might be playing the waiting game with a disease they’ve had for decades.