Harvard Men's Health Watch

Neck lump is common sign of throat cancer due to HPV virus

In people diagnosed with an increasingly common form of mouth and throat cancer linked to infection with the oral human papillomavirus (HPV), the symptom they noticed first was a lump in the throat, according to a study in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery. Cancer of the upper throat is a growing health issue for men who were exposed to HPV earlier in life during oral sex or deep kissing.

The small study involved 88 people, mostly men. Upon testing, 71 of the cancers were found to have been caused by HPV. For all cancers, the most common early warning signs were neck lumps and sore throats. However, neck lumps were more typical of the cancers associated with HPV.

In the past, throat cancer typically occurred in men with a history of smoking and alcohol use. HPV infection is now a growing cause, with 70% or more of cases now linked to the virus. Most people exposed to oral HPV do not develop cancer, but the chance rises the longer a man has been infected. Women are tested for exposure to HPV with Pap smears because the virus can cause cervical cancer. For men, there is not yet a similar test for oral HPV available.

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