Posted: July 7, 2013

HPV is close to surpassing smoking and drinking as the leading cause of cancers of the head and neck (tongue, tonsil, mouth, vocal cords, as examples).  The HPV vaccines offer great protection from cancer of the cervix but do they similarly prevent HPV related head and neck cancer?  Based on a recent study the answer seems to be yes.  Investigators from Costa Rica tested young women who had received the HPV vaccine for the prevalence of HPV in the saliva.  They found that the vaccine offered 93% protection against acquiring oral HPV.  Dr. Stark comments, “This study is sub-optimal in many ways.  Their rate of HPV infection in the mouth seems much lower than is seen in the US, perhaps because of different sexual mores.  Also, they seemed to allow into the trial women who had HPV prior to enrollment.  A better study would be to take only women who are HPV negative at entry, but their incidence of positivity was low.   Nonetheless the protection rate they quote seems solid and gives us one more reason to immunize children against HPV.  The study also compels us to vaccine boys as well, as if that weren’t already known. “