Tip Sheets

Tips on reporting about the changing nature of HPV-related cancers

By Mary Otto

Ever since actor Michael Douglas used his battle with throat cancer in 2013 to help raise awareness about the disease, more has been learned about men’s particular vulnerability to HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers, Marie McCullough reported in a recent story for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Miami Herald reporter Shayne Benowitz has recounted the medical journey of Jason Mendelsohn, who underwent treatment for life-threatening Stage IV throat cancer and now works to educate others about HPV-related disease.

“There were things on my bucket list, but you don’t need a bucket list when you’re afraid you are not going to make it to 45 when you’re 44,” acknowledged Mendelsohn, who created a Superman HPV website to help increase awareness.

In the August 2018 report, Trends in Human Papillomavirus-Associated Cancers – United States, 1999-2015, federal researchers charted the climb of new HPV-related cancer cases in the U.S. from 30,115 in 1999 to 43,371 by 2015.

In 1999, cervical cancer was the most common type of HPV-linked cancer, with 13,125 cases compared with 9,375 cases of oropharyngeal cancer.

By 2015, however, cases of oropharyngeal cancer had risen to 18,917, far outnumbering 11,788 cases of cervical cancer that year.

Researchers determined that in 2015, 82 percent of the new oropharyngeal cancers (15,479) had occurred in men.

The paper in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report includes a breakdown of HPV-associated cancer by sex, type and age group over the years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a wealth of data and information about HPV-related cancer.

Of particular usefulness to reporters is this map of HPV-related cancers by state.

Also useful is this United States Cancer Statistics Data Brief that includes graphics and a summary of findings about HPV-associated cancers. 

In Oral HPV: 8 Things to Know, Jeanine Barone, writing for the University of California’s Berkeley Wellness website, offers consumer-friendly guidance on risk and prevention.

Finally, this 2016 systematic review, Oral Sex and Oropharyngeal Cancer: The Role of Primary Care Physicians, takes a look at the prevalence of oral sex among different age groups of Americans, the prevalence of HPV-16, the strain of virus most often linked with oral cancers, and the correlation between oral sex and oropharyngeal cancer.

The authors of the study, which published in the journal Medicine, conclude that family physicians will play an important role in ongoing efforts to prevent disease and educate the public.