Gardasil, a Human Papillomavirus vaccine, is displayed at the Girls to Women Health and Wellness clinic in Dallas, Texas March 6, 2007. Texas Governor Rick Perry issued an executive order requiring girls entering the sixth grade to be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV. Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore researchers have found that the human papillomavirus (HPV), primarily a sexually transmitted virus, is strongly associated with mysterious cancers in the head and neck area. Doctors have always been in the dark with certain mysterious cancers whose origin and spread cannot be ascertained. These kind of cancers are often known by the name “unknown primary squamous cell carcinoma” (UPSCC).

An estimated four percent of neck and head cancers are categorised as UPSCC. These cancers appear in one part of the body but may originate in another. Thus, it becomes next to impossible to treat these kinds of cancers. Now, the Johns Hopkins researchers may finally have an answer. They have been able to establish a strong connection between HPV and UPSCCs in head and neck area, especially the oropharynx, the throat’s middle part that includes base of the tongue and tonsils.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, may hold clue in answering numerous unknown things about UPSCC and even aid doctors in finding suitable treatment options for targeted therapy. Moreover, the study brings to light the burgeoning importance of vaccinating against HPV infection.

Dr. Carole Fakhry, an associate professor of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, examined 84 UPSCC patients (mostly male) for 9.5 years. Above 90% of the patients were found to be HPV positive thereby indicating HPV to be the cause of the mysterious cancers in men.

HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer. It is responsible for nearly 300,000 annual deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. HPV is also a major cause of throat cancer in men if they are heavy tobacco and alcohol users. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV causes about 75 per cent of the estimated 12,500 yearly throat cancer cases in the United States.

HPV causes cancers of the vagina, penis, vulva and anus. According to researchers, apparently the virus resides in the oropharyngeal and genital. It can spread through vaginal, oral and anal sex. Doctors recommend teenagers, both male and female, to receive the HPV vaccines before they become sexually active to prevent mysterious cancers in teenagers.