Oral Cancer and Human Papilloma Virus

In the United States, human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection. There are more than 100 types of HPV, and more than 40 types can spread quickly through direct sexual contact. Oral HPV is also common and spreads to the mouth through oral sex or in other ways. Many people encounter HPV at some point in their lives. Studies show that around 10% of men and 3.6% of women have oral human papilloma virus. Oral HPV is common in older people than younger ones. The infection clears within two years in most people, but it may be persistent. HPV can lead to serious health complications, including oral cancer and warts.


Oral cancers resulting from HPV may be much harder to discover than tobacco-related cancers. The symptoms of the cancer are not always obvious, and the patient, as well as the health professionals, may take longer to detect it. In most cases, the symptoms are painless and subtle. There are many oral cancer tests and screening devices. However, none of them are able to detect HPV oral cancer at an early stage. HPV virus infects the mouth and throat, causing cancers on the back of the throat, tonsils, and the base of the tongue. In the United States, more than 70% of oropharyngeal cancers occur due to HPV infection.


More males than females develop oropharyngeal cancers. Women acquire the HPV infection early in their sexual encounters and rapidly as they encounter different sexual partners. They seroconvert the disease into an antibody that shields them through life. On the other hand, males do not contract the HPV virus immediately and may encounter numerous sexual partners before getting the virus. Males take long to seroconvert HPV infection into protective antibody. This explains the high likelihood of males getting HPV oral cancer than women.


What are the symptoms of HPV oral cancer?


You can look out for several signs, including long-lasting sore throat. Other symptoms include hoarseness, earaches, pain while swallowing food, unexplained weight loss, and swollen lymph nodes. Other signs may include soreness or irritation that does not go away. You may experience white or red patches or numbness, tenderness, or pain in the mouth or lips. There may also be a change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth. You may experience thickening tissues, lumps, crusty, or eroded areas in your mouth. If you experience any unusual signs or discomfort in your mouth, seek medical attention immediately.


To prevent HPV infection, the Center for Disease Control and Infection recommends that boys and girls aged between 11 to 12 years should get two doses of the HPV vaccine. The second dose comes 6 to 12 months after the first dose. CDC also recommends that women and girls below 26 years who did not receive the vaccination as children should get one. Boys below the age 21 who did not get the vaccination as children may also get the vaccine.


Early discovery of oral cancer has many positive impacts. You may enjoy a longer lifespan, experience reduced treatment-related morbidity, and experience better post-cancer treatment quality of life. You can lower your risk of HPV infection by consistently using condoms and dental dams.