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A new report surrounding oral HPV-related cancer cases among men shows that African Americans are at a higher risk of being affected by the growing epidemic, NBC News reported.

According to the study—which was conducted by the Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Florida, and other researchers—between the years of 2011 and 2014 nearly 11 million men and 3 million women were diagnosed with oral HPV, the news outlet writes. The infection was predicted to be most prevalent amongst African American men who smoked marijuana, consumed over 20 cigarettes per day, and had more than 16 vaginal or oral sex partners. Smoking was a key factor in elevating the risk of a cancer-prone HPV strain.

HPV is often referred to as a “silent” epidemic due to the fact that it doesn’t cause any noticeable symptoms, reports the source. While HIV is transferred through blood and semen, HPV can be spread through mucosal membranes and other fluids. Although those who contract the infection may be unaware that it is in their system, over time it can cause tissue and DNA deterioration which can eventually lead to tumor growth.

According to the outlet, HPV is the primary cause of cervical cancer and can lead to oropharyngeal cancers that affect the neck and head. Researchers say that it’s harder to spot oral HPV due to the lack of adequate testing procedures. However, dentists may play a key role in oral HPV prevention.

“We are working with them both on trying to increase vaccination rates and on reducing smoking rates,” Dr. Erich Sturgis, professor of head and neck surgery at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, told NBC News. “If we could get dentists to at least ask parents whether their kids are vaccinated, just by asking we are going to help improve knowledge about the problem and at least get more of our kids vaccinated.”

HPV has been an ongoing health issue within the Black community. Although according to the New York Times HPV cases amongst African Americans have declined by 3.5 percent, a report released by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation shows that Black woman have the highest mortality rates related to cervical cancer which is often caused by the virus.

SOURCE: NBC News, New York Times, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

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