Human papillomavirus (HPV) is known to cause cervical cancer in women, but it can also cause mouth and throat cancer in men. Many men do not know this and are not getting vaccinated.
Case Study: Gary Bolnick
One example is a man named Gary Bolnick. He started to feel overly tired and found lumps in his neck. When he went to the doctor, they told him he was fine and it was nothing to worry about. But then Bolnick’s symptoms continued to get worse, and he was eventually diagnosed with stage four tonsil cancer. This kind of cancer is usually caused by tobacco, but Bolnick was not a smoker. His case was caused by HPV.
Just three years before Bolnick’s diagnosis, a study from Maura Gillison found people with head and neck cancer were 15 times more likely to have HPV.
Bolnick had his tonsils removed in emergency surgery, and went through other treatments afterward. He said the treatments had a terrible effect on his well-being. He lost a ton of weight, lost interest in things he enjoyed, and had trouble performing at work. He says he was “in really bad shape.”
HPV is actually the most common sexually transmitted disease in the country. More and more men are now being diagnosed with oral cancer that comes from HPV. A recent report from the Center for Disease Control said men are five and a half times more likely to have high risk oral HPV. In the next two decades, experts think HPV will cause more head and neck cancers than smoking or alcohol.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Krzysztof Misiukiewicz, an oncologist at Mount Sinai research facility, says its clear that the main risk factor for men getting HPV is oral sex. But he also says it is not about the amount of partners one has. It appears it can be developed at any time through oral sex. There are examples of monogamous couples that have been married for sixty years getting the disease.
The good news is that the prognosis is strong for people with HPV that have never smoked. Many of these people survive, but treatment is still difficult. The only way to prevent HPV cancer is through vaccine, but that only works for people who have not been exposed yet. That’s why the recommended ages for being vaccinated are relatively young. Not all people comply with the recommended ages though. Some parents think the vaccine promotes sexual behavior. This is one of the reasons less than fifty percent of teenagers have been vaccinated, including less than twenty five percent of teenage boys.
The point of the vaccination is to get it done before teens are sexually active, though. That is the only way to safeguard against HPV. That would lead to less cases of cancer each year.
Misiukiewicz did not, however. It’s true that not all people who get HPV will get cancer. They still cannot predict with any accuracy which HPV cases will develop into the deadly disease. A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology said the same thing. They found that partners of HPV positive people with oral cancer did not have a higher risk of HPV infection than normal people.