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Doctors issue warning about HPV & oral cancer

Posted at 9:07 AM, Apr 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-10 10:37:43-04

Doctors are putting out a warning about the virus that causes cervical cancer. It's called Human Papillomavirus or HPV and experts are worried it may be linked to thousands of new cases of oral and throat cancer.

FOX 47's Alani Letang talked with doctors about why this is happening.

Doctors told Letang that it's stemming from younger adults who aren't practicing safe sex or getting vaccinated.

Jeff Lyon was diagnosed with throat and neck cancer in May 2016. He saw a doctor after a shaving cut caused his neck to swell. In June 2016 he started 8 weeks of radiation and three rounds of chemotherapy, 5 days a week. Lyon told us the treatment was discouraging at times.

"There was about a two week period where I was pretty scared. I got admitted into the hospital for about five days and I told my wife I don't think I was going to get out of the hospital, I thought this was it and she reassured me that it wasn't going to be," said Jeff Lyon, throat and neck cancer survivor.

He's cancer-free now, but he's not taking any chances with his children.

"The day that I got diagnosed, and they weren't even sure it was HPV related or not, I started my kids on the HPV vaccination," said Lyon.

There are multiple strains of the virus. some are known to cause cervical cancer. Doctors think others may cause oral cancer in men and women.

"Patients with HPV you see the virus in those and we know there are a higher association and a correlation with HPV virus and oral cancer," said Dr. Jeffery Johnston, periodontist, and Chief Science Officer and Vice President Delta Dental of MI, IN and OH.

"It's increasing in the area to the lips all the way to the tonsil and the area around it, " said Dr. Muhammad Hamdan- Hematologist, Medical Oncologist at Sparrow in Lansing.

Kids and young adults are at higher risk for HPV in part because of risky sexual behaviors.

"Because of the increased practiced of unprotected oral sex," said Dr. Johnston

Even people who've been vaccinated against the virus aren't in the clear. Doctors said it may not be as effective after a few years.

"The CDC has updated the vaccine, and they recommend to get the newer one if it has not been done before. So every five months I would have the patient check up on his primary care physician to see if there is a new recommendation from the CDC," said Dr. Hamdan.

And vaccine or not, simply asking a doctor when you see something out of the ordinary can save your life. Just like it did for Jeff Lyon.

"The biggest thing is if you find something that's out of the ordinary get it looked at no matter how big or small it is," said Lyon.

One of the signs to look out for in HPV is an ulcer or mouth sore that won't heal after a couple of weeks. You should see a doctor for any wound that won't heal.

There will be an oral-cancer screening available for you at Lansing Community College on April 23rd.