A recently published study from researchers at University of Calgary (AL, Canada) suggests that the prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancers, such as those of the oropharynx and anal canal, are increasing. It is thought that this is due to lifestyle-related risk factors, such as sexual behavior.
There is a lot of literature that supports the link between HPV and cervical cancer; however, the relationship between HPV infection and cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva and oropharynx has only recently been confirmed. The introduction of the Papanicolaou smear screening programs have helped to reduce cervical cancer rates, yet the incidence of other HPV-related cancers has been increasing.
Lorraine Shack of the University of Calgary, corresponding author of the study, explained the importance of the research: “The increases in the incidence of oropharyngeal cancer among younger men and of anal cancer among younger women are disturbing, because there are no screening programs for early detection of these cancers.”
In this population-based study, the authors used data from the Alberta Cancer Registry to identify patients with cancers associated with HPV between 1975 and 2009. They observed that over 8000 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed during this time, 56% of which were cervical cancers and 18% oropharyngeal cancers. They also noted that anal cancer in women doubled from 0.7 to 1.5 per 100,000 people.
Although the authors could not rule out that other important risk factors, such as smoking, may have an impact on the results, they concluded that HPV-related cancers in younger age groups should continue to be monitored.
Sources: Shack L, Lau HY, Huang L, Doll C, Hao D. Trends in the incidence of human papillomavirus–related noncervical and cervical cancers in Alberta, Canada: a population-based study. CMAJ Open. 2(3) E127-E132 (2014); University of Calgary press release