An Update on Oral cancers: A Movement for Vaccines

In a previous blog, we promised to give you more information about how the human
papillomavirus (HPV) can contribute to oral cancer.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says HPV cancers “include cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. HPV infection can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer).” The CDC says that it occurs in an estimated 3,100 women and 12,638 men in the United States. What makes this more alarming is that HPV-positive patients may not display symptoms until the virus has significantly advanced – meaning to say that many cases occur decades after the patient has been infected.
As the rates of HPV-positive patients rise, experts feel the alarming need to protect the public
against this growing kind of cancer. Doctors recommend that pre-adolescents be vaccinated against HPV-related cancers. This was echoed by the CDC when it recommended that “11- to 12-year-olds receive two doses of HPV vaccine at least six months apart.” Since the number of shots required was decreased, the medical community hopes that there would be an increase in completed vaccinations, which has lapsed in the last decade.

The Human papillomavirus

While there are over 200 strains of HPV, not all of them can cause cancer. The most potent cancer-causing strain of HPV is HPV16. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, “HPV is the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancers” and “a very small part of the front of the mouth, oral cavity cancers.”

People can get infected with the virus if they perform oral acts on a person afflicted with the virus. However, men and women react differently to the virus. For instance, women typically develop antibodies against HPV when it is exposed to them vaginally – so that they are also protected from any subsequent oral infection. On the other hand, men are less likely to develop the antibodies after exposure to the virus – making them five times more likely than women to be infected with the virus orally.

The movement for vaccines

While HPV vaccines can help prevent patients from contracting HPV, it also protects patients against subsequent HPV exposures that can put them at risk of serious diseases, including cancer. Due to this, many are looking for ways to minimize the risks brought about by HPV.
One method that aims to minimize the impact of oral cancer to people was found by Prof. Cheong Sok Ching of the Oral Cancer Research Group at the Cancer Research Malaysia (CRM). Her team is currently exploring a potential cancer which is being considered for safety evaluation before they can start clinical trials in humans.

The project aims to use the Crispr-Cas9 technology. Professor Cheong’s methodology uses
techniques that are targeted to Southeast Asians, given that cancer seems to be predominant
among Asians. In an article on Star2.com, Prof. Cheong says that many of the oral cancer cases in Malaysia are diagnosed after the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. “In our part of the world,” she said, “cancer survival is very poor, particularly for oral cancer, and our patients
predominantly dod not survive more than two years.” Hopefully, her discovery would lead to more breakthroughs in oral cancer – particularly when it comes to vaccinations and cures.