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IMAGE: These are tonsil crypts with human papillomavirus (HPV; green) in epithelial and biofilm (red) layers (‘V’ = biofilm; ‘G’ = HPV; original magnification ×20). view more 

Credit: Katherine Rieth. M.D.

Human papilloma virus (HPV), the culprit behind cervical cancer and some forms of head and neck cancer may hide in small pockets on the surface of tonsils in people not known to carry the virus. The finding, reported by University of Rochester Medical Center researchers in the Journal of the American Medical Association, could be pivotal for the prevention of oropharyngeal cancers that form on the tonsils and tongue.

By mid-adulthood, most people have been exposed to HPV. The same strains that cause cervical cancer (mainly HPV 16 and 18) cause head and neck cancers. While verified tests exist to detect HPV in people before they develop cervical cancer, the same is not true for HPV-related head and neck cancers, which are expected to outnumber cervical cancer cases by 2020.

Only about five percent of HPV-infected people will develop cancer of the mouth or throat, suggesting most people’s immune systems can easily hold back HPV infections. Which begs the question, why doesn’t the immune system protect the five

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