According to the CDC, up to 70% of oropharyngeal cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV. Their studies show that 10% of men and nearly 4% of women have some form of oral HPV. While there are 200 strains of this virus, only a handful of them are thought to be oncogenic. Still, you should know about the link between HPV and oral cancer. Here’s what you should know.
How Is HPV Transmitted?
HPV is easily transmitted and with so many strains, some estimates say that over 80% of people will contract at least one of them at some point in their life. Some of the most common ways this virus is transmitted include vaginal, anal, and oral sex. However, any skin-to-skin contact has the potential to spread the virus and there is some evidence to suggest that heavy kissing may spread oral HPV as well.
Who is at Risk?
Even though HPV spreads relatively easily, some are at higher risk of contracting the virus. As expected, the number of sexual partners you’ve had, and even the number of sexual partners that they have had, has a big impact on your overall risk. Other factors include:
- Age: adolescents and young adults are much more likely to experience genital warts, which can also increase the risk for HPV through oral sex
- Damaged skin: a cut, scrape, or area of damaged skin increases the chance that you will contract the virus from a partner who already has it
- Weakened immune system: health conditions such as HIV/AIDs and autoimmune disorders can lead to a weakened immune system that can make it easier to contract HPV – some medications are designed to suppress the immune system, like those after an organ transplant
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
Many of the symptoms of HPV and oral cancer are mild and can mimic common illnesses such as a cold or even allergies. When these symptoms do not improve or continue to worsen over several weeks, you should see your doctor or a specialized dentist. These can include:
- Ulcers or sores
- Lumps or persistent swelling
- A swollen tonsil (only one side)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Numbness in the mouth
- A lump on the outside of the jaw or neck
If you have a form of oral HPV, you should have regular dental exams and regularly check the inside of your mouth for signs of oral cancer. If you have any of the above symptoms and there’s a possibility of HPV and oral cancer, call Katy Cypress Oral Surgery & Implant Center at (281) 667-0607 to schedule an appointment.