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CDC: Oropharyngeal cancer second most diagnosed of HPV-associated cancers

Atlanta—Oropharyngeal cancer is the second most diagnosed of cancers associated with the human papilloma virus, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the April 20 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a CDC analysis of 2004 to 2008 data from the National Program of Cancer Registries and from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results program yielded evidence of 33,369 HPV-associated cancers diagnosed in 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In its analysis of the NPCR and SEER data, the CDC found that oropharyngeal cancer was diagnosed at an average of 11,726 cases annually. Only cervical cancer, at an average of 11,967 cases annually, was diagnosed at a higher rate.

Of the 11,726 annual cases of diagnosed oropharyngeal cancer, the CDC reported that an estimated 63 percent are attributable to oncogenic HPV infection.  Males were diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer with preponderance over females: 9,356 cases versus 2,370 cases.

HPV-associated cancers occur at specific anatomic sites—the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus and oropharynx—in specific cell types (carcinoma of the cervix and squamous cells for the other sites) in which HPV DNA is frequently found.  The CDC analysis identified the rates of diagnosed HPV-associated cancers by anatomic site, age group, sex, and race/ethnicity.

Case definitions based on expert consensus were used to examine the burden of invasive cancers at anatomic sites and occurring in the affected cell types. “Inclusion of oropharyngeal cancers as HPV-associated was further limited to specific sites where HPV is most likely to be found: base of tongue, tonsils, and ‘other oropharynx,’” the report said.

The report touted the use of HPV vaccines in curtailing infection rates. “Many HPV-associated cancers likely are preventable through the use of HPV vaccines,” the report said. “Two vaccines (bivalent and quadrivalent) are available to protect against HPV 16 and HPV 18, the types that cause most cervical and other anogenital cancers as well as oropharyngeal cancers.”

The report noted that “cervical cancer rates have decreased in the United States, largely as a result of the success of screening, but disparities still remain. HPV vaccine likely will help decrease cervical cancer rates further and reduce the disparities.”

However, the CDC concluded, because other HPV-associated cancers, including oropharyngeal cancer, do not have approved screening programs, “HPV vaccines are important prevention tools to reduce the incidence of noncervical cancers.”