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Head and Neck CancersThroat CancerHPV Throat Cancer

Let's Talk About HPV and Throat Cancer

For generations, the leading cause of throat cancer was tobacco. Not anymore. Here’s what the experts have to say about a whole new threat to your health.

    Our Pro PanelHPV Throat Cancer

    We went to some of the nation's top experts on head and neck cancers to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

    Salvatore M. Caruana, M.D.

    Salvatore M. Caruana, M.D.Director of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery

    New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia University Medical Center
    New York, NY
    Nadia Mohyuddin, M.D.

    Nadia Mohyuddin, M.D.Head and Neck Surgical Oncologist, Associate Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology

    Houston Methodist Hospital
    Houston, TX
    J. Kenneth Byrd, M.D.

    J. Kenneth Byrd, M.D.Chief of Head and Neck Surgery, Medical Director and Research Director

    Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University
    Augusta, GA

    Frequently Asked QuestionsHPV Throat Cancer

    People with HPV-positive throat cancers have a five-year survival rate of 85% to 90%, which is a stark contrast to the 25% to 40% survival rate of smokers and drinkers with advanced throat cancer. Experts believe this is because tobacco significantly damages cell DNA and also weakens the immune system, making it harder to fight the cancer. Alcohol use further compounds these problems.

    Is HPV an STD?

    Yes, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the U.S. HPV is spread through vaginal intercourse, anal and oral sex, and other skin-to-skin contact. It’s estimated that nearly all sexually active people will have an HPV infection at some point. When used correctly and consistently, condoms and dental dams can reduce your risk, but won’t completely prevent an HPV infection.

    How long does an HPV infection last?

    An infection usually clears in one to two years. There are no symptoms with the HPV strains that can cause cancer, so most people don’t even realize they have it. Sometimes, an HPV infection stays dormant in the body and then reactivates after many years. So if your partner suddenly tests positive for HPV, it may be due to reactivation rather than cheating (whew!).

    Are my oral warts going to turn to cancer?

    Not likely. The strains of HPV that cause warts in the mouth, as well as the genital area, are considered low-risk and don’t lead to cancer. In fact, the term “oral HPV cancer” is a misnomer. HPV only causes cancer in the back of the mouth, which is part of your throat. Cancers that develop in the front part of the mouth, known as the oral cavity, are not HPV-mediated.

    Stephanie Wood

    Stephanie Wood

    Stephanie Wood is a award-winning freelance writer and former magazine editor specializing in health, nutrition, wellness, and parenting.