The prevalence of throat cancer caused by a prominent sexually transmitted disease among Indigenous Australians has been laid bare by new global research.
University of Adelaide researchers human papilloma virus-led throat cancer was 15 times more prevalent in Indigenous Australians than young non-Indigenous Australians, and five times higher than rates found in the US, Brazil, Mexico and Finland.
UOA Indigenous oral health unit director and Yamatji woman Joanne Hedges said Indigenous communities had worked closely with the researchers on the project.
“Participants wanted to be part of this HPV project because they wanted to be part of change,” she said.
“The theme coming out was, ‘I had a family member pass away with this throat sickness, and I don’t want to happen to any other Nunga in my community or my family’.
“There was a real strength of participation.”
HPV is normally associated with cervical cancer, but can spread to the throat, head and neck via oral sexual activities, and is increasing at a rapid rate globally.
University of Adelaide Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health director Lisa Jamieson said extending the study would allow a deep dive of the knowledge they had already learnt.
“There’s two types of oral HPV, types 16 and 18, that are linked to oropharyngeal cancer, out of the more than 250 types overall,” she said.
“Sixteen and 18 have the strongest carcinogenic potential – type 16 has an almost 100 per cent risk of getting cancer – so it’s important we understand how prevalent this disease is in Indigenous communities.
“We’ll be doing thorough clinical examinations, which includes a full dental check of the teeth, the tongue, the backs of the throat, and taking blood samples to test for early stages of cancer.”
The initial findings have led to a five year extensions through to $3.1 million National Health and Medical Research Council fund.
The ultimate goal of the research is to detect early signs of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer before it becomes fatal.
More than 1,000 Indigenous people from across South Australia – including Adelaide, Mount Gambier, Coober Pedy, Ceduna, Whyalla, Port Lincoln, Port Pirie and the Riverland – were recruited for the study, which started in 2019.
Dean and Head of School Richard Logan said if detected early, throat cancer treatments could reduce the risk of death and improve quality of life.