HPV and Oral Cancers
Oral cancer diagnosis and Human papillomavirus (HPV) have been closely linked. But what is HPV, and how does this condition impact the risk of other serious health conditions, like cancer?
Considered the most common sexually transmitted disease, HPV is an infection found worldwide. In the U.S., more than 13 million adults and teens become infected each year, with an estimated 42 million currently infected.1
Spread by skin-to-skin contact, HPV can be contracted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an individual who has the virus, even with no expressive symptoms1. Many who have HPV may never show symptoms and for 90% of cases, the infection resolves itself within 2 years. But in some cases, the infection can last longer, leading to other health conditions such as cancer.
Currently, there are more than 100 varieties of HPV with some infections causing warts. These warts can be contagious and may increase the likelihood of cancer development.
HPV and Cancer
HPV has been associated with several types of cancer, depending on the site of infection.
The following cases of cancer have been documented:
Cervix, vagina, and vulva in women
Penis in men
Anus in both women and men
Back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils, in both men and women
Typically referred to as oropharyngeal cancer, cancers of the mouth and throat have been closely linked to HPV, thought to be responsible for upwards of 70% of oropharyngeal cancers in the United States.2
Alcohol and tobacco products have been closely associated with cases of oropharyngeal cancer, as well.3 Although general consensus should be to refrain from tobacco and alcohol use (including vaping, smoking, chewing, etc.), those with an active HPV infection may be more at risk.
Other Risk Factors
A number of other factors have been identified to impact the risk and development of oral and throat cancers, including oropharyngeal and oral squamous cancers.
Prolonged sun exposure, gender, age, oral hygiene, diet, and immune health have all been shown to play a role in the development of these cancers.
Other risk factors associated with HPV include age, weakened immune system, damaged skin, and personal contact.4
Many can mediate their risk of exposure of HPV by speaking with their healthcare provider about an HPV vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine HPV vaccination for girls and boys ages 11 and 12, although it can be given as early as age 9. It's ideal for girls and boys to receive the vaccine before they have sexual contact and are exposed to HPV.5
Those who receive the HPV vaccine after infection may not have the same efficacy as those who receive it prior. Thus, the HPV vaccine can be a powerful preventative agent against HPV-associated cancers when introduced early enough.
1 Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection. (2020, October 29). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/about-hpv.html
2 HPV and Oropharyngeal Cancer | CDC. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/basic_info/hpv_oropharyngeal.htm
3 Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer - Risk Factors and Prevention. (2021, May 5). Cancer.Net. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/oral-and-oropharyngeal-cancer/risk-factors-and-prevention
4 HPV infection - Symptoms and causes. (2021, October 12). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hpv-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20351596
5 Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine. (2019, December 2). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine-for-hpv.html