A new report has found that the increase in certain types of oral cancer is being fuelled by the human papillomavirus, which is already the cause of millions of cases of cervical cancer.
According to a report in the journal Cancer, the root cause of the increase in oropharyngeal cancers comes from one particular strain of HPV.
It is most commonly found near the base of the tongue and around the tonsils.
Figures from the study showed that almost two-thirds (60%) of such tumours found annually in British Columbia, Canada, were as a result of the HPV infection.
The report claimed that the number of men to have tested positive with oropharyngeal cancer has increase from 30 to 60 in the last 10 years.
In women, the increase has been steady, but less dramatic. Radiation oncologist at the BC Cancer Agency, Dr John Day, believes the surge can be explained by a change in patterns of sexual behaviour and birth control over the last 30 or 40 years.
“HPV has been around for ages, but the use of oral contraceptives starting in the 1960s and 1970s led to an increase in incidents of sexually transmitted diseases,” he said.
He also pointed out that the current policy of offering vaccinations to girls between the ages of 12 and 18 failed to address the problem in boys, saying it meant “only half” the population was protected.