Lowcountry doctors track increase in certain throat cancers

Trident Medical Center is tracking a type of throat cancer on the rise in the Lowcountry.
Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 5:25 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 24, 2023 at 7:17 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Trident Medical Center is tracking a type of throat cancer they say is on the rise in the Lowcountry and they’re not waiting until April’s Oral Cancer Awareness month to begin spreading their message.

Medical data states throat cancer is not just caused by smoking but by the Human papillomavirus, which in some cases could remain dormant for decades for those who don’t smoke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls HPV the most common sexually-transmitted infection.

The American Association for Cancer Research says head and neck cancers, including throat cancer, are now being found in those who are non-smokers who have an HPV infection.

Each year in the United States, there are about 12,000 cases of HPV-associated cancers in the throat.

Trident Medical Center Head and Neck Surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Houlton said nearly 30 percent of patients he sees with cancer tumors which are located on tonsils and the base of the tongue are caused from HPV. He said HPV is transmitted to the mouth and throat and is more prevalent in caucasian men between the ages of 50 and 60.

Houlton said research is revealing cases of HPV tumors are on the rise but becoming more able to treatable with surgery. He said tumors at Trident Medical Center are removed by either minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery or primary radiation.

“We’re still continuing to get the word out that every year treatments are changing on this,” Houston said. “Diagnoses are changing on this. We have better and better diagnostics. There’s now a blood test that can detect HPV in your blood for our tumor patients. And the evolution of how this is treated with a more surgical approach is important for all of the care in the entire state.”

Houlton encourages preteens entering high school to receive the HPV vaccine, saying it will save lives.