Head and neck specialists, radiologists and other clinical experts came together at a recent health conference at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital to discuss the rise in those caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
Director of the Head and Neck Department at Princess Alexandra Hospital and president of the Australia and New Zealand Head and Neck Cancer Society, Associate Professor Ben Panizza said that the current spike in cases could be a direct result of the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies.
“Oropharyngeal cancer, which is cancer of the tonsils and tongue, is on the rise. Ten years ago we were seeing around one patient every fortnight,” the Courier Mail quoted him as saying.
“Now we encounter about two cases a week,” he said.
The cancer is divided into two types - caused by the human papillomavirus infection and those caused by heavy drinking and smoking.
“Previously most cases we saw were caused by the latter, and since it typically takes years of alcohol and tobacco abuse to cause this type of cancer, patients were generally elderly,” Prof Panizza said.
“Now we are seeing younger patients, around middle age, who are developing cancer following infection with the human papillomavirus, which many people usually associate only with cervical cancer,” he said.
According to Prof Panizza, the virus had a long lag phase, so it is often decades between exposure to the virus and the appearance of symptoms.
“As a result, it is highly likely that the current increase in cases is directly linked to changes in sexual behaviour seen in the sixties and seventies,” he added.