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New Understanding of Oral HPV Infections in Healthy Men

Disease tends to resolve within a year (July 2)

Scientists at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, report that newly acquired oral human papillomavirus (HPV) infections in healthy men are uncommon and, when present, tend to go away within 1 year.

HPV infection is known to cause virtually all cervical cancers, along with some genital and anal cancers, and it has recently been established as a cause of most oropharyngeal cancers.

The researchers also determined that acquisition of oral HPV appeared more common among smokers and unmarried men.

The new study was published in The Lancet.

Oropharyngeal cancer is rare, but rates have been increasing rapidly, especially among men, the authors say. The natural history of HPV infection in the oral region among healthy people has not been described.

To determine the pattern of acquisition and persistence, the researchers evaluated the HPV infection status in oral gargle samples collected from more than 1,600 men in the U.S., Mexico, and Brazil as part of the HPV Infection in Men (HIM) study. Over a 12-month period, 4.4% of participants acquired an oral HPV infection (which includes all types of HPV); 1.7% were infected with a cancer-causing HPV type; and 0.6% were infected with HPV16 — the HPV type responsible for most HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers.

These observed rates are considerably lower than the rates of cervical and other genital-tract HPV infections among healthy individuals, the authors said. The age pattern was also different — oral HPV infections were acquired across the age range in the study, while cervical HPV infections typically peak shortly after sexual initiation.

For men with any new infection, the estimated median time to clearance was 6 months, which is similar to rates observed at other anatomic sites where HPV causes cancer, the authors noted.

Source: National Cancer Institute; July 2, 2013.

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