Does human papillomavirus (HPV) cause throat cancer?

Heidi Fantasia

Yes, HPV infection has been linked to oral, head and neck cancers, specifically oropharyngeal cancers of the tonsils and tongue base. The primary mode of transmission is thought to be oral-genital contact with an infected sexual partner. Men experience HPV-related oral cancers at a higher rate than women. Also, these cancers are more common among smokers and those who use alcohol. 

Oral cancers of the throat are harder to diagnose because they often do not have symptoms until they are in later stages. There are also no specific tests to diagnose these cancers if a person is asymptomatic. 

The best way to protect yourself against HPV-related disease is to limit lifetime sexual partners, use condoms with every sex act, choose partners that do not have multiple other partners, and limit tobacco and alcohol use.  


Abie H. Mendelsohn, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (Otolaryngology)
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the number one cause of pharynx cancer. It does not cause overall throat cancer, but rather pharynx cancer (cancer of the upper part of the throat). Indeed, it is the number one cause above smoking. There was a dramatic increase in HPV-positive oral pharynx cancer from the 1980s into the early 2000s. In the next 10 to 20 years in the United States, there will be a steep rise in oral pharynx cancer. Interestingly, cervical cancer, which we relate more with HPV, is going to be on the decline likely due to some of the screening measures that are available for cervical cancer but not currently available for throat cancer.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.