There is a vaccine against the cancer: the one that fights the Papilloma Virus (Hpv), a leading cause of cancer not only of the uterus but also oropharyngeal ones, in particular the one that affects the tonsils.
Professor Giuseppe Spriano, Head of the Operational Unit of Otolaryngology in Humanitas, spoke about it in an interview.
The vaccine: obligatory for adolescents
The vaccine against the Papilloma virus is an effective prevention system that has become obligatory in Italy, for both male and female adolescents, since 2018.
Today the incidence of this tumor “has increased by 250% and affects patients who are 15 years younger than those caused by smoking – said Prof. Spriano – but fortunately these tumors caused by the virus have a double chance of recovery. It is a “tumor that statistically affects twice as many men as women”.
Papilloma virus: its transmission and how it becomes ‘malignant
The Papilloma virus is usually responsible for uterine cancer but “this same virus is also responsible for most cancers affecting the oropharynx, in particular the tonsils – explained Spriano -. In the United States, for example, we currently have more than 80% of tonsil tumors caused by this virus, in Italy we are around 40%. This means that in addition to the more classic and known causes such as smoking and alcohol, which determine 50% of these cancers, Hpv also has its incidence.
How is it transmitted? The only cause of transmission, as far as tonsils and the oropharyngeal area in general are concerned, is oral sex: “the virus enters through the mouth, the tonsil has these crypts and cavities as its conformation” in which “the virus penetrates as far as the cell generating first a chronic infection and at a certain point it can infect the cells to such a point that it can insert its viral genome into the DNA of those cells, transforming the cells into carcinogenic cells. That’s how cancer develops,” the professor said.
The cure: precision surgery and therapies
There have been great advances in surgery thanks to robotics, already widespread in the abdominal, gynecological and urological fields, now it is also used in ENT: “the robotic arm is inserted through the mouth, which moves through the commands and the arms of the surgeon, which move instead from a console,” said the professor. “These are very sophisticated technologies in which the movement of the surgeon’s hands is replicated by the robot”.
In cases of localized tumors, surgery is therefore sufficient; only in patients where the tumor is larger and perhaps more widespread are radiotherapy or chemotherapy also necessary.