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More than three quarters of Americans will get HPV at some point in their lives. Most will never know it because they'll show no symptoms.
But Dr. Eric Moore, a Mayo Clinic head and neck surgeon, says a growing number of people are developing HPV-related throat cancer. And he fears the numbers are going to get much worse before they get better.
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"There's a small number of people that will go on to develop a chronic viral infection," Dr. Moore says. "And if they develop a chronic viral infection of what we call high-risk HPV, then they will sometimes develop a cancer related to that virus. And that cancer typically occurs in their tonsil or base of [their] tongue."
Dr. Moore says HPV-related throat cancer is becoming more common. An estimated 20,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with it in 2018. In 2019, the number is predicted to rise to an estimated 22,000–23,000 cases.
He says the good news is that HPV-related throat cancer is fairly easy to treat, usually with robotic surgery to remove the tonsils. But he hopes more young people getting the HPV vaccine will help lower the number of cases in the future.
"The bottom line is this is a tumor that's still increasing in incidence, but we see hope on the horizon that increased vaccination will then start a downward trend in the number of cancers that we see and, eventually ─ hopefully ─ make it a very uncommon cancer because most people are immune to it," Dr. Moore says.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all children between ages 9–14 receive two doses of HPV vaccine at least six months apart.