HPV-related throat cancer is becoming more common

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I was pleased to read the article on the Jewish Healthcare Foundation’s launch of a Pittsburgh chapter of Grandmother Power as a means for increasing awareness of the urgency to vaccinate our children, teens and young adults against HPV (“Grandmothers Band Together, Whip Up Anti-HPV Push,” Aug. 21) and to see the endorsement of the Post-Gazette editorial board (“Grand Effort,” Aug. 25 editorial).

I am an ear, nose and throat surgeon who has practiced in Western Pennsylvania for the past 35 years. My career focus has been on the treatment of throat cancer. During my career I have seen that the incidence of tobacco-related cancer in the throat has gradually gone down as the campaigns against smoking have improved the health of our community.

Unfortunately we now know that a subset of individuals who develop cancer in the back of the tongue and the tonsil are related to latent infection from a common and very transmissible virus. HPV-related throat cancer is becoming much more common. New information suggests that it may become more common than uterine cancer by the year 2020.

The wonderful news, however, is that these cancers can be entirely prevented with a very safe and effective vaccine which has only been approved since 2007. Information about the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine must be communicated to the parents of the adolescents for whom it is most effective.

I applaud the PG’s leadership in helping achieve this goal.

Department of Otolaryngology
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

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