HPV attributed to rise in throat cancer

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Throat cancer is on the rise, and the cause is something you might not expect. A sexually transmitted disease is what is causing about 70 percent of head and neck cancers.

"I was watching my diet and nutrition as I was getting toward middle age. Exercise, proper rest. was always part of my regimen," said cancer survivor Jeff Husney.

When he felt a lump in his neck five years ago, he never expected it to be cancer, but he soon learned he was not alone. In the last decade, doctors started seeing a disturbing trend in head and neck cancer patients.

"Who were younger who had little smoking history if at all and were otherwise in good health," said Dr. Brian Burkey of the Cleveland Clinic.

Doctors found a common thread. Patients were infected with the human pappilloma virus (HPV).

It is estimated that 20 million Americans are infected with HPV. It is the most common sexually transmitted disease, and in women can lead to cervical cancer and in men throat cancers.

Initially Husney tested negative.

"Chances are the test was a false negative so HPV more than likely is the reason why I had this cancer," said Husney.

"This is really a new cancer cause and because of its epidemic proportions, this could be a major health problem," said Dr. Burkey.

There may be a way to prevent it. The CDC recently recommended the HPV shot, Gardisil, for boys ages nine to 26. It is already approved for girls. Husney says he would recommend it to his sons to avoid what he experienced.

"The treatments are affecting your mouth and your ability to eat, drink, swallow, talk. It becomes a very painful and challenging form of treatments to get through so besides it being cancer, I would hope to spare my sons that path," said Husney.

Dr. Burkey says up to 90 percent of patients with HPV, no matter their stage, are still quite curable.

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