CNS – The Oral Cancer Foundation is urging medical researchers to speed up investigations on the safety of a vaccine for a sexually transmitted virus that it said causes cancer of the mouth.
The foundation’s statement comes shortly after studies published this month in the medical journal “Cancer” and the New England Journal of Medicine, which suggest a link between human papillomavirus (HPV) and oral cancer.
Currently, the vaccine—which protects against four strains of the virus—is administered to girls and adolescent females to protect against cervical cancer, the foundation said.
Deaths from cervical cancer, which number about 3,700 per year nationally, have declined due to improved methods of early detection and the public’s greater awareness of the importance of annual screenings, the foundation said.
The foundation also said men can benefit if given the same vaccine and urged the FDA to approve such a use once scientific due diligence has been accomplished.
“The study affirms what we have long believed, namely that the vaccine can reduce oral cancer rates if given to both males and females,” said Brian Hill, founder and executive director of the Oral Cancer foundation.
Oral cancer can be detected early through simple visual and hand examinations, the foundation said. But no public awareness campaign exists nationally to promote detection, it said.
Every day in the United States, 93 people develop oral cancer—and one person dies from it every hour, more than twice the death rate of cervical cancers and higher than many of the more commonly known cancers, according to the foundation.
Compounding the problem is that oral cancer often goes unnoticed in its early stages and it usually not detected until later, when prognosis is poor, the foundation said.
Rates of oral cancer are on the rise nationally, despite years of declining tobacco use, the foundation said.
“What seems like a paradox actually illuminates the expanding role HPV- 16 plays in acquiring this disease,” Hill said.
HPV-16 is one of the destructive strains out of more than 100 versions of the virus, the foundation said. It was first linked to oral cancer more than 10 years ago, but recent research has backed up claims about its role as a causative factor in oral cancer in both men and women, the foundation said.
HPV, which can be transmitted either through genital or oral-genital contact, is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, the foundation said.
About 20 million men and women currently have the disease, and close to 80 percent of sexually active adults will acquire the virus at some point in their lives, the foundation said.
Hill said widespread use of the vacine in both men and women will result in positive collateral benefits in reducing rates of oral cancer.
He also warned that delaying research and subsequent FDA approvals could come at a cost in higher oral cancer rates.