Speaking to the Irish Examineron World Head and Neck Cancer Day, Gerard O’Leary, an ear, nose, and throat consultant at the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital (SIVUH), said there was “increasing incidence” of these type of cancers caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV).
“Cancer caused by HPV is associated with tumours arising mainly in the tonsillar region as a result of oro-genital contact,” said Mr O’Leary. “We are seeing an increasing incidence of that. It often occurs in people who are non-smokers. We are also seeing a small decrease in smoking and drinking related cancers, maybe because people are smoking less.”
Mr O’Leary said the age profile of those affected by HPV-related cancers “can be quite young, we see people in their 30s”, compared to an older age profile of 55-plus among those whose cancers are caused by smoking and drinking.
He said the majority of patients with HPV-related head and neck cancers are male, and that it seemed to be random in terms of who was affected. “Why some get it and others don’t, I don’t know,” he said.
While head and neck cancers are relatively uncommon — accounting for 5%-6% of all cancers — Mr O’Leary said they could have a major impact on basic functions such as chewing, swallowing, and speech.
Symptoms of head and neck cancer — which affects the mouth, throat, including voice box, and down to the upper gullet — include hoarseness that fails to clear up after four to six weeks, swollen glands that stay up, a lump on the side of the neck, a non-healing mouth ulcer, and white patches on the tongue. Where the cancer is more advanced, there may be paralysis of the vocal cords.
Mr O’Leary said they are continuing to fundraise to improve services. To donate, the details are a/c AIB Head and Neck Oncology, IBAN:IE78AIBK93434829163061, BIC:AIBKIE2D, or online at ammado.com, head and neck oncology, SIVUH.