It's the typical culprit, but other factors, including immune changes, damage from nicotine, and even a genetic disposition, could play a part.
Earlier this month, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released its annual Cancer Facts & Figures. The 2012 report includes some encouraging facts. Since 1990, the incidence of some common tumors including lung, colon, and prostate cancer has declined. Meanwhile, the rate of seven malignancies, like those of the lower mouth and throat linked to human papillomavirus (HPV), is increasing. The cause of this trend, which many assume is linked to people engaging in more oral sex, is not as straightforward as you might think.
Oropharyngeal cancers refer to tumors of the tonsils and rear tongue, back of the palate and posterior walls of the throat. Like their anatomical neighbors -- malignancies of the larynx, vocal cords, anterior and mid-tongue, other parts of the mouth and lips -- oropharyngeal cancers arise more often in people who drink and smoke heavily. These other head and neck cancers have waned in recent years, probably because North Americans are smoking fewer cigarettes and chewing less tobacco.
The ACS estimates there will be 13,500 new cases of oropharyngeal cancer in the U.S. this year. This includes both HPV positive and negative cases; nearly 11,000 men and over 2,500 women will be affected; some 2,300 will succumb to this condition. Between 1999 and 2008, the rate of HPV positive oropharyngeal cancers by rose 4.4 percent per year in white men and by 1.9 percent per year in white women. Changes among other racial and ethnic groups were not significant, according to the report. The biggest rise emerged in men between the ages of 55 and 64 years.