By Sara Bondell - October 08, 2020
While it is unclear what caused rocker Eddie Van Halen’s tongue and throat cancer, it is likely his heavy alcohol and cigarette use played a role in his diagnosis.
But another leading cause of oropharyngeal cancer—cancers of the tonsils, base of the tongue and throat—is human papillomavirus, or HPV. The amount of oropharyngeal cancer associated with HPV infection has increased dramatically over the past 20 years in men and women without any history of smoking and drinking, as well as among those who have a history of tobacco and alcohol use.
Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, was approved in 2006 for use in children and young adults ages nine through 26. In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the age range to age 45. While it is unknown if Van Halen’s cancer was HPV-related, he fell outside of the recommended age range for the vaccine.
However, his death has highlighted the importance of HPV vaccination.
The HPV vaccine is approved to prevent six different HPV-related cancers, including cervical cancer, and earlier this year, the FDA granted accelerated approval of the HPV vaccine for certain head and neck cancers.
Moffitt Cancer Center will be opening a trial to determine the efficacy of the HPV vaccine in unvaccinated men ages 20 to 45. While both men and women are at risk for oropharyngeal cancers, men are five times more likely to be diagnosed. And unlike cervical cancer, oropharyngeal cancer does not have a reliably detected pre-cancerous lesion that can be screened for as a means of prevention.