Can HPV-Related Head and Neck Cancer Be Prevented?

David Pfister, Chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Head and Neck Oncology Service, explains that the human papillomavirus (HPV) is spread through sexual contact. However, patients with head and neck cancer do not need to take special precautions with their sexual partners because very few HPV infections result in cancer. Women should have an annual Pap test to prevent cervical cancer, but there is no established screening test for HPV-related head and neck cancer. The HPV vaccine, which is proven to protect against genital warts and cervical cancer, is not proven to prevent head and neck cancer. The vaccine is currently recommended for boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 14, prior to sexual exposure. (Video uploaded April 18, 2012)

Update: On October 5, 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration announced that it had expanded the approved use of the Gardasil 9 vaccine to include women and men aged 27 through 45 years. “Today’s approval represents an important opportunity to help prevent HPV-related diseases and cancers in a broader age range,” said Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, when making the announcement.