High-Risk for HPV-Related Cancers

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Associate Director: Nancy Lee

Project Description: In recent years, there has been a rise in cases of head and neck cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Increasingly, young men who are nonsmokers and are otherwise in good health have been found to have oropharyngeal cancer. This includes cancers in the middle portion of the throat (pharynx) beginning at the back of the mouth, as well as the base of the tongue, the tonsils, and the soft palate. Incidence of this cancer in young men has gone up 300 percent over the past 40 years.

One study recently found that one in nine men between ages 18 and 69 are infected with oral HPV. This equates to 11 million men (compared with 3 million women). The most common strain is HPV 16, which is one of the types known to cause cancer.

Although these cancers may respond to conventional therapies, we need to find innovative ways to treat them and identify biomarkers and other factors for early detection. The cure rates are near 100 percent when these cancers are found early.

This effort will identify a group of individuals who are at a high risk for cancer. It will focus on identifying new tests for the early detection of cancer caused by HPV. Once we develop a test that is effective and easy to perform, we can use it to screen men throughout New York City. The aim is for this test to eventually spread all over the country and to the rest of the world.