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HPV virus previously thought to be at low risk for cancer

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POSTED: Monday, October 8, 2012 - 7:00am

UPDATED: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - 10:21am

An accomplished actor, Tony Simotes spent years honing his vocal talents, but when his voice changed a few years ago he went to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who put a scope down his throat.

The problem was throat cancer.

The cause was a strain of the Human Papilloma Virus he may have contracted decades ago.

Tony says the fact that HPV is most often transmitted sexually tends to make the topic taboo,
but doctors say HPV may be transmitted easier than we thought.

"We cannot exclude that kissing, for example, does transmit HPV, or even skin-to-skin contact," says Dr. Robert Haddad of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The number of HPV-related head and neck cancers has been increasing.

15 years ago the typical throat cancer patient was an elderly man who drank and smoked heavily.

Now it's men and women in their 40s and 50s who've never smoked and rarely drink, but who've been infected with one of two HPV strains.

In most cases the tumors are curable with radiation, surgery and chemotherapy.

Still, treatment for these young survivors doesn't end with a cure.

Now the focus has shifted to helping patients with life after throat cancer, regaining the ability to eat and speak normally.

"It's where we breathe from, obviously it's where we eat, it's where we taste life, it's where we live life, and your life will never be the same after you've had throat cancer," Simotes says.

Tony is now using his voice to promote awareness, hoping to shine a spotlight on a quietly, but quickly, growing disease.

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