A study has found that oral human papilloma virus (HPV) infection increases the risk for developing neck and head cancer. The increased risk of head and neck cancers is mainly linked to HPV-16, a specific type of HPV.

Past studies have revealed that HPV causes throat cancer among men and cervical cancer among women. The discovery led the medical community to increase the guidance of vaccines starting in early teens prior to the person's assumed timeline of exposure to the virus.

In the current study, the research team from Albert Einstein College of Medicine said mouthwash samples can help determine the person's risk of developing neck or head cancer. The team, headed by Robert D. Burk, M.D. and Ilir Agalliu, M.D. Sc., analyzed 96,650 mouthwash samples of participants who never had cancer. These people participated in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial and the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort. They were monitored for an average of almost four years.

The team found 132 participants who later developed either neck or head cancer within the follow-up period. Their data was compared to the 396 participants in the control group. The mouthwash samples were screened for various types of oral HPVs.

Findings showed that participants whose mouthwash samples had HPV-16 were 22 times more likely to develop oropharyngeal cancer. Additionally, the team found that gamma-HPVs and beta-HPVs were also linked to the increased risk of developing head and neck cancers. These types of HPVs are usually found on the skin.

The study found that looking for the presence of HPV-16 in mouthwash samples can help predict the development of head and neck cancers. The research was published in the journal JAMA Oncology on Jan. 21.

In 2010, actor Michael Douglas announced that he received a diagnosis for stage 4 throat cancer. Several specialists failed to identify Douglas' cause of oral distress. Finally, a doctor from Montreal discovered a walnut-sized tumor at the base of his tongue. Douglas said the cancer was caused by HPV.

There are currently two FDA-approved vaccines in the market for the prevention of HPV strains 16 and 18 infections - Gardasil and Cervarix.

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