Is Throat Cancer on the Rise?

By Staff Writer - July 10, 2019

Celebrities such as actor Val Kilmer, Megadeth lead singer Dave Mustaine and Dog the Bounty Hunter’s wife Beth Chapman have all made the news recently for their battle with throat cancer. Although it hasn’t been confirmed these stars’ cancer had a connection to human papillomavirus (HPV), experts say HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers—which include cancer of the tonsils, base of tongue and throat—are on the rise.

Actor Michael Douglas and actress Marcia Cross’ husband have both been public about how HPV caused their own battle with throat cancer.

Dr. Caitlin McMullen

“The incidence of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma related to HPV has been increasing in North America and other developed countries since the 1970’s,” said Dr. Caitlin McMullen, a surgeon in Moffitt’s Head and Neck Oncology Program. “We see this type of cancer almost every day at Moffitt. Traditionally, oropharyngeal cancers were caused most often by smoking, but now more than 70% of these cancers are related to HPV.”

The Centers for Disease Control estimates there are about 3,400 new cases of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers diagnosed in women and about 14,800 diagnosed in men each year in the United States. 

Fortunately, HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer has a better prognosis than smoking-related oropharyngeal cancer. There is also a HPV vaccine that can help prevent this cancer.

Signs and symptoms of throat cancer can include:

  • Swallowing difficulties (dysphagia)
  • A feeling that food has become lodged in the throat
  • Hoarseness and other vocal changes
  • Persistent sore throat
  • A mouth sore that bleeds easily or does not heal within a few days
  • A red or white patch on the gums, tongue or cheek lining
  • Mouth or tongue numbness
  • Chronic nasal congestion
  • Ear pain


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