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Young Adults Getting More Oropharyngeal Cancer, Study Shows

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The oropharynx is an important yet an often-neglected part of the body. This is found in the middle portion of the pharynx or throat, which serves as a conduit that starts with the nose and ends in the esophagus and into the stomach. This portion of the body includes the following parts: the base of the tongue, the soft palate or the back of the mouth, the pharyngeal walls and the tonsils.

The Basics of Oropharyngeal Cancer

The oropharynx can be affected by cancer. Oropharyngeal cancer exists when cancer cells originate from any portion of the oropharynx. Majority of oropharyngeal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas and are commonly from the surface of the throat.

There are many risk factors for oropharyngeal cancer, one of which is the consumption of alcohol. Smoking is also said to be a predisposing factor for oropharyngeal cancer. Being infected with human papilloma virus (HPV), especially HPV-type-16/18 (HPV-16/18) is also another.

Oropharyngeal cancer can first be diagnosed by observing its initial signs and symptoms. Signs that you may have oropharyngeal cancer include a persistent sore throat, painful or difficulty of swallowing, weight loss which is unexplained, changes in the voice, ear pain, a lump in the neck or a lump in the back of the mouth or throat. Upon examination at the clinic, the doctor may examine the throat and check for masses. Biopsy is often needed to find out whether the mass is malignant or not. The cancer is in Stage I if it is 2 centimeters or less and has not spread outside the oropharynx. It may be graded as Stage II if it is sized at 2 to 4 centimeters and has not spread outside the oropharynx; Stage III if the lesion is larger than 4 centimeters yet has not spread outside the oropharynx. The lesion is staged at Stage IVA if the cancer has spread outside the oropharynx including the roof of the mouth, the jaw, the voice box, muscles of the tongue or the central jaw muscles. It is classified as Stage IVB of the cancer appears as a lymph node larger than 6 centimeters and has spread to the surrounding areas of the oropharynx and Stage IVC if the cancer has spread to the other parts of the body.

Treatment depends on the stage of the disease. If the cancer is in Stage I or Stage II, the doctor may treat it with surgery or radiation therapy. If the lesion is in Stage III, the doctor will first remove the tumor with surgery and later on do radiation therapy; or the doctor may opt to do radiation treatment alone, or chemotherapy with surgery and radiation therapy or chemotherapy with radiation therapy. If the lesion is in Stage IV, the doctor may opt to do either of the following: surgery with radiation therapy, radiation therapy alone, or radiation therapy and chemotherapy. After treatment, the progress of the patient's health will depend on the stage of the tumor and the HPV status. Those which are HPV-positive can be easily cured while those who are HPV-negative may be harder to cure.

Oropharyngeal Cancers and HPV

A recent study has shown that there is an alarming increase in oropharyngeal cancers among young adults which may be related to infections of the human papillomavirus (HPV). This study done by researchers from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit have found out that there was a 60% increase from 1973 and 2009 in cancers of the base of tongue, tonsils, soft palate and pharynx in people younger than age 45. The results are published in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

The researchers have attributed this increase to the increased transmission of high-risk HPV among young adults because of the increase in number of those engaged in premarital sex. These findings are enough to suggest health officials that they should do something about this increasing incidence.

To know more about oropharyngeal cancer, you may read our other articles on this site.