In more recent decades, HPV has been shown as a risk factor for developing head and neck cancer.

Head and neck cancer covers everything from throat, tongue, and tonsil cancer to laryngeal, mouth, and oesophageal cancer. Globally, it’s the sixth most common type of cancer.

HPV — particularly HPV-16 — is mainly linked to oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC), which affects the part of the throat behind the mouth.

Cases of HPV-linked head and neck cancer are increasing in parts of the world, like North America and Europe, often in younger age groups.

Research has found that OPSCC is now the biggest cause of HPV-related cancer in the United States.

Doctors still aren’t sure how HPV causes head and neck cancer as they’re unclear why some people have a lingering HPV infection, other than those who have weakened immune systems.

If the infection remains for a long time, it may damage cells in the body and trigger tumor growth.

The fact there are more cases of this type of cancer may be down to more people having oral sex, leading to an HPV infection in the head and neck area.

Smoking and drinking alcohol are major risk factors for head and neck cancer, particularly if usage is heavy and has been ongoing for a long period.

If you drink and smoke, the risk increases still. Around 75% of head and neck cancers are caused by a combination of alcohol consumption and smoking.

Males are also more likely to develop these types of cancers.

As smoking and alcohol are known to increase the risk of head and neck cancers, stopping these activities or reducing them may reduce your risk.

It’s also known that smoking makes it more difficult for the body to clear an HPV infection.

If you have any medical concerns, contacting a doctor as soon as possible is always best.

Specific symptoms to be aware of with head and neck cancer include:

  • feeling hoarse
  • pain or difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • changes to your voice
  • a lump in your neck or the feeling of a lump in your throat
  • sores on your neck that don’t seem to be healing

How long does it take for HPV to turn into throat cancer?

It isn’t a quick process, often taking many years.

In fact, HPV can take decades to turn into cancer, whether it’s throat cancer or another HPV-related type.

What does HPV-related throat cancer look like?

A lump in the neck tends to be the most obvious and common symptom of HPV-related throat cancer.

There may be discomfort or pain in the area while swallowing, chewing, or simply doing nothing, though some people do not experience this.

Other symptoms to look out for include hoarseness, voice changes, and open sores on the neck that are slow to heal.

Checking yourself regularly and having routine dental appointments can help identify any problems early on.

What’s the outlook for HPV-related head and neck cancer?

HPV-related head and neck cancer has a better outlook than other types. The cancer generally responds better to treatment.

Innovative treatments, such as lower doses of radiation, are being devised to improve the quality of life for people with these types of cancers, as traditional approaches can affect the ability to eat and swallow.

While cases of HPV-related head and neck cancer are increasing, the outlook is more likely to be a positive one — particularly when the cancer is detected early enough.

If you notice a lump on your neck, feel one in your throat, or have any difficulty swallowing or speaking, it’s best to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.