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The Causes Of Head & Neck Cancer: HPV versus Smoking

Posted in Sexual Health 18 Sep, 2015

Oi! Stop snogging and listen because kissing might kill you, and not only because your dad will find out what you've been up to.

Whereas smoking used to be the biggest risk factor for head and neck cancer, that unworthy title has switched to HPV. A New England study recently found that people infected with HPV were 32 times more likely to develop throat and oral cancers. This is hugely more than smoking, which makes head and neck cancer three times more likely, and drinking, which makes it 2.5 times more likely.

What Is Head and Neck Cancer?

It's any cancer that affects your neck and head with the exception of your oesophagus, eyes and brain. It's usually in your soft tissues, so inside the mouth, throat and nose.

People don't know much about it, but that needs to change because outcomes for diagnosed folk are not good. This is because they don't realise what's wrong. Presently 60% of the diagnosed die within 5 years because their symptoms are so advanced, but if the symptoms are spotted quickly they have an 80-90% survival rate.

If you have one of these symptoms for 3 weeks or more you must see your doctor. In fact, any persistent symptom needs to be looked at by a medical professional - not your mum and certainly not by a torch in front of the mirror unless you have a medical PhD.

- Sore tongue
- Painful throat
- Hoarseness
- Difficulty swallowing
- Lump in neck
- Blocked nose on one side or bloody discharge

What Is HPV?

It's a virus - the human papilloma virus. There are loads of these. Over 80 individual types have been identified. They affect the skin and muscles of the body, but not all cause cancer.

Why Is HPV The Bigger Cause Now?

Why is HPV casing such a stir in the head and neck cancer world? It's prevalence in diagnosed cases is pretty shocking. Here are two suggestions:

Anti -Smoking Campaigns

Perhaps anti-smoking campaigns have prevented some head and neck cancer. There are not so many smokers these days. Perhaps HPV was always a cause but it only leads now by virtue of us giving up the white sticks.Find out the best way to stop smoking on our stop smoking page, if you are still struggling to quit. We offer guidance and effective treatments to help you stop.


Or perhaps our promiscuity has increased the rate of HPV. I'm not necessarily saying that we sleep around more than before (though we probably do) but contraception pills such as the binovum pill has made us less concerned about the consequences of sex and its associated activities - yes I mean oral sex, no matter what Bill Clinton said. I hope you're reading this, Jeremy Corbyn. Be careful.

Whatever the reasons, we need to pay attention to head and neck cancer because it's the sixth most diagnosed cancer in the UK.

Try to be more aware of your bodily fluid sharing. Be more discerning and find out more about HPV before it's too late. It's European Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week 21-25 September, you can find out more information on their website.

I'm not trying to scare you, but sex education is important. I'm a school governor you know. Perhaps it's time to get HPV and cancer on the school syllabus.

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