By Anika Clark
Stanley Sikora of Fall River and Tom Souza of Swansea clearly remember when they started their battles with cancer — life-changing moments while raking leaves or shaving, when they touched their necks and felt a lump.
It’s a common experience thanks to a disease that, between the suffering of friends, families and ourselves, has become nearly universal.
But then came news neither expected.
Tumors from both men tested positive for human papillomavirus, an often sexually transmitted virus that is increasingly being linked to cancers of the head and neck.
At Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Head and Neck Cancers, “it’s something that we see practically on a daily basis,” said Dr. Lori Wirth, medical director for head and neck oncology, who said in an email that, although there are not-fully-understood co-factors, there’s strong data that about 60-65 percent of all cancers of the oropharynx (the rear of the mouth, including the back of the throat, tonsils and the base of the tongue) are HPV-related.
“Our awareness that HPV is associated with oropharynx cancers is something that has been emerging over the last 5-10 years,” she said. “Ten years ago, we didn’t even look for (it).”