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Medicine & Science
University of Texas Medical Branch
News Release
Wednesday, May 17, 2017

HPV vaccine may be effective against oral cancers

GALVESTON, Texas – While known to help prevent anal and genital related cancers, the Human Papillomavirus vaccine may also provide protection against oral forms of cancer caused by HPV infections.

A new study by researchers at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that those vaccinated had a lower prevalence of the HPV type that is responsible for some head and neck cancers. The study findings are published in the journal Vaccine.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. and there has been a large push to get people vaccinated against it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that 11-to-12 year-old boys and girls get the HPV vaccine.

HPV vaccination has been recommended primarily to prevent HPV related anal and genital cancers such as cervical cancer in women. The vaccine is not currently approved for prevention of oral cancers. Proof that the vaccine protects directly against HPV-linked oral cancer is not yet available, as these cancers are rare and can take decades to develop.

“There is some evidence that HPV vaccination may protect against oral HPV infection but no current research has demonstrated this in the general population,” said Jacqueline Hirth, first author of the study and an assistant professor at UTMB.  

HPV is responsible for the majority of oral and pharynx cancers in the U.S. and it is expected that HPV-related oral and pharynx cancer cases may exceed those of HPV related cervical cancer by 2020.   

Hirth and other researchers at UTMB used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2009 and 2014. Information from over 3,000 participants, 18 to 30 years old, who indicated whether they had received the HPV vaccine and had provided an oral sample, were included in the study.

“More research is needed on a larger sample of vaccinated and unvaccinated men and women because oral HPV infection is relatively rare,” Hirth said.

Other authors include Mihyun Chang, Vicente A. Resto, Fangjian Guo and Abbey B. Berenson, all of UTMB.

This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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