On Monday, researchers reported findings that suggest that throat cancer cases have increased dramatically in the United States over the last 5-10 years. The study suggests that many of the new cases of throat cancer have developed because of HPV virus transmission during oral sex. Though noted for its risk of causing cervical cancers, HPV is often overlooked for its chances of causing throat and tonsil cancers. But the studies released Monday, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, suggest that at the rate the virus is developing now, cases of throat cancer will surpass cases of cervical cancer caused by HPV by 2020.
Though often treatable, throat cancers require incredibly harsh and often painful treatments and can have severe side effects. Luckily, the two HPV vaccines currently available on the market- Gardasil and Cervarix, protect against the strain of HPV that causes most cases of cervical and oral cancers. In fact, many researchers are now recommending that boys, along with grade-school girls, be vaccinated with the medications in order to lessen the spread of oral and genital HPV.
Good news, right? Except that at the moment, access to, and requirement of the HPV vaccines is being debated amongst politicians. In fact, Michelle Bachmann received tremendous backlash after the last debate for saying that Garasil can cause mental retardation (a claim that has no medical evidence to back it up) and for publicly chastising Republican candidate Rick Perry who had mandated that 6th grade girls get the HPV vaccine. Perry has since revoked this rule. Perhaps the new evidence of the potentially fatal effects of contracting HPV will help change political attitudes on the vaccine. Some might even argue that it is in the best interest of the public to erase all political dialogue about the issue and focus on the hard, medical facts that suggest the dangers of the disease and the incredibly high rates of transmission. Regardless, it will be interest to see if the topic is raised at the next Republican debate, and if any of the candidates views have changed.