HPV, also known as Human Papillomavirus, is a sexually transmitted virus that infects skin and wet surfaces of the body. The most common types are found on the skin and appear as warts. Some HPV types also infect the genital areas of both men and women. Genital HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. and worldwide. Some of these are “low-risk” and cause genital warts while “high-risk” types can cause cervical or other types of genital cancers. These high-risk HPV types may also cause a form of throat cancer, sometimes called oropharyngeal cancer, which is becoming more and more common throughout the country.

The Tulane ENT/Otolaryngological Clinic is a regional leader in the diagnosis and treatment of these cancers of the throat. If you think you might be at risk, talk to your doctor, or contact the clinic at (504) 988-5451.

HPV-positive Cancer Treatments

HPV-positive throat cancer generally responds very well to several forms of therapy, including surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. New technologies have been developed that greatly improve treatment, survival and side effects. For early cancers, the use of robotic surgery first, followed by a course of radiation treatment and/or chemotherapy, has had increasingly positive outcomes. In fact, the cure rate for HPV-related cancers is close to 90 percent.

Tulane Health System was one of the first health systems to pioneer robotic surgery techniques in the Gulf South. Robotic surgery is far less invasive than traditional surgeries, greatly minimizing complications, costs and recovery time – and improving quality of life after surgery. Additionally, robotic-assisted procedures give the surgeon access to areas they normally can't reach without major trauma.

Frequently Asked Questions

Honestly, the medical community isn’t sure. However, HPV viruses have long been known to be present in the genital area and to be a significant cause of cervical, vulvar and penile cancer. One theory is that more people are engaging in sexual activity with multiple partners and having oral sex, and as a result they are contracting HPV in the head and neck region, resulting in a higher rate of oral and throat cancers.

Symptoms include hoarseness, pain or difficulty swallowing or chewing chewing, a lump in the neck, a feeling of a persistent lump in the throat, a change in one’s voice or non-healing sores on the neck. If you have any of these symptoms, speak with your doctor or contact the clinic at (504) 988-5451.

All cases of cervical cancer are derived from HPV. Two vaccines have been developed to protect against high-risk HPV infection. So far, the vaccines are approved for males and females ages 9-26. There is no evidence that adults, most of whom have had infection, will be protected from the development of cancer by being vaccinated. This vaccine only prevents infection – it doesn’t treat adults who are already infected.

You should be screened if you have a history of tobacco or alcohol use, oral lesions or exposure to radiation therapy or any symptoms of throat or mouth cancer. Those symptoms include hoarseness, pain while swallowing, difficulty swallowing, pain while chewing, a sense of a lump in the throat, a change in voice, a lump in the neck or non-healing sores.

Getting screened is relatively easy. After a physical examination of the mouth, doctors place a very thin, flexible telescope, with a miniature camera on its tip, into the nose to examine the back of the throat, the larynx and the vocal cords. Talk to your doctor to learn more, or contact the clinic at (504) 988-5451.