Understanding the Link Between HPV and Oral Cancer
- The son of 80s rock star Eddie Van Halen, Wolfgang, 32, married his longtime girlfriend of eight years. The joyous milestone comes a few years after his famous father died of tongue cancer.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “70%” of oral cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) in the U.S.
- HPV is a group of more than 200 related viruses, some of which are spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, according to the National Cancer Institute.
- HPV-related throat cancers are generally very responsive to a combination of radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
- The HPV vaccine, like Gardasil 9, offers protection against “nine HPV types” and creates an immune response to HPV 16, the primary cause of 92% of head and neck cancers.
The son of legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen is celebrating a joyous milestone despite the hardship of experiencing his famous father’s tongue cancer battle several years ago. Wolfgang William Van Halen, 32, married his longtime girlfriend at a private wedding, and his father’s presence was felt throughout the ceremony.
View this post on InstagramRead MoreWolfgang married his fiancée Andraia Allsop at their Los Angeles home, with 90 of their closest friends and family. The happy couple began dating in 2015 and chose to have a non-traditional wedding ceremony. His best man’s father officiated the festivities. Allsop’s grandmothers served as flower girls.
“Back in March, my grandfather passed away, but when he and my grandma got married [in the] early 1990s, I was about 3, and so I was their flower girl…So I thought it would be fitting and just a nice little moment to have my mom’s mom and my dad’s mom be our flower girls,” Allsop told People.
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Wolfgang made memory charms with a photo of his famous father for all the guests. Then, as he was being walked down the aisle by his mom, Valerie Bertinelli, a song his father wrote for him played over the loudspeakers.
“The song that my father had written for me it’s an instrumental piece called 316. It’ll be a nice way to include my dad,” Wolfgang said.
It’s heartwarming to see Van Halen’s family still cherishing life’s precious moments, such as weddings.
Helping You Better Understand HPV
- ‘Controversial’ HPV Vaccine Shown to be Highly Effective in Wiping Out Cervical Cancer
- A Major New Effort Announced to Vaccinate Young Boys Against HPV and Cancers Linked to Sex
- A Reminder About HPV-Linked Cancers From Survivor & ‘Desperate Housewives’ Actress Marcia Cross
- Busting the Myths About the HPV Vaccine
Eddie Van Halen’s Cancer Journey
Eddie Van Halen’s cancer journey began in 2000 when he was diagnosed with tongue cancer. His treatment involved surgery, which caused him to lose a third of his tongue. After the procedure, he was declared “cancer-free.” However, he would have some cancer cells scraped out of his throat in the wake of the procedure, Newser reports.
Van Halen hypothesized the cause of his tongue cancer. He previously told Billboard that he believed the cancer derived from years of putting copper and brass guitar picks in his mouth.
“I used metal picks, they’re brass and copper, which I always held in my mouth, in the exact place where I got the tongue cancer,” Van Halen said.
It’s important to point out that little evidence supports the 80s rock star’s theory behind his cancer’s origins. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do not classify copper or the metals in brass (an alloy comprised of copper and zinc) as carcinogenic to humans. This means that the metals are not known to cause cancer. Van Halen had been a lifelong smoker; as he told Billboard during the same interview, he began smoking cigarettes when he was only 12.
HPV and It’s Link to Oral Cancers
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is “a group of more than 200 related viruses, some of which are spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex,” the National Cancer Institute says.
HPV infection is linked to multiple cancers, and most sexually active people will get it at some point.
“There are no screening guidelines to screen for throat cancer, unlike cervical cancer with pap smears,” says Dr. Jessica Geiger, a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet. “There are no standard tests to determine if you harbor the virus.”
On the plus side, HPV-related throat cancers are generally very responsive to a combination of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, according to Dr. Geiger.
“The cure rates for people who have HPV-related disease are a lot higher than those who have tobacco-related throat cancer,” she said.
Protecting Against HPV
Nearly 80 million Americans have HPV today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It impacts men and women and won’t cause problems for most people.
However, it can lead to cancer in a small percentage of cases.
The HPV vaccine is recommended to protect against HPV and HPV-related cancers.
Gardasil 9 is an HPV vaccine that offers protection against “nine HPV types: the two low-risk HPV types that cause most genital warts, plus seven high-risk HPV types that cause most HPV-related cancer,” according to the National Cancer Institute.
The vaccine creates an immune response to HPV 16, the primary cause of 92% of head and neck cancers. Once children are vaccinated, they cannot be infected with that strain. For parents, the HPV vaccine enables them to protect their children from developing cancer in the future.
“The key with the vaccine is that you receive it before you have sexual encounters,” says Dr. Geiger. “So that’s why these vaccines are approved for young children ages 9, 10, 11 years old, up to age 26.”
The HPV vaccine is recommended for all male and female preteens 11 to 12 years old in two doses given between six and 12 months, according to the CDC.
The series of shots can also start as young as nine.
The CDC also notes that teens and young adults through age 26 who didn’t start or finish the HPV vaccine series also need the vaccine.
Additionally, people with weakened immune systems or teens and young adults who started the series between 15 and 26 should get three doses instead of two.
Although adults up to 45 can still receive the vaccine, it’s not recommended for everyone older than 26. Still, a person older than 26 could choose to get vaccinated after talking to their doctor about possible benefits, despite it being less effective in this age range, as more people have already been exposed to HPV by this point.
Vaccine hesitancy can impede people from getting the vaccine. The concern may come from parents who feel the vaccine paves the way for early sexual activity. For this reason, some health practitioners are educating the public about the vaccine differently.
“I think rebranding the vaccine as a cancer vaccine, rather than an STD vaccine, is critically important,” says Dr. Ted Teknos, a head and neck cancer surgeon and scientific director of University Hospital’s Seidman Cancer Center.
Dr. Teknos believes concerted efforts to “change the mindset around the vaccine” can make a difference.
Questions for Your Doctor
Suppose you are concerned about your cancer risk related to the human papillomavirus or whether HPV causes cancer you have. In that case, you can use one of the conversation starters below when talking with your doctor:
- I am unsure if I received the HPV vaccine when I was younger. What can I do to know for sure?
- If I experience symptoms that could be because of HPV, what tests can I undergo to know for sure?
- How can I know if HPV caused the cancer I have?