What Is the Link Between HPV and Oral Cancer?

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Our doctors at Loudoun Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery have a great deal of experience in diagnosing and treating oral pathologic conditions. These conditions can range from benign cysts and nodules to oral cancer. Some of these conditions are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This virus has gotten a lot of attention over the past several years, in part due to the vaccines that are now available to help protect our children from developing some of these diseases in the future.

One of the most common viruses, HPV encompasses almost 200 strains, the name derived from warts which some kinds of HPV can cause (papillomas). HPV is typically contracted through sexual intimacy. HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer in women and is also a leading cause of oropharyngeal (throat) cancer. Cancers of the oral cavity (lips, tongue, the floor of mouth, cheek linings, roof of the mouth, and gums) are most commonly associated with smoking and heavy alcohol consumption.
Based on their association with cancer, HPV types are classified into risk rankings – low to high. There are vaccines that have been shown to be highly effective in preventing the risk of cervical cancer from HPV, but it is important to have the vaccine before becoming sexually active.

While HPV is common, in most cases the body clears the virus without any symptoms. According to the CDC, up to 80% of Americans will experience HPV infections in their lifetime. Of these, 99% will overcome these infections without harm with most not knowing they even have an infection. That said, having routine oral cancer screenings and conducting periodic oral cancer self-exams are an effective way to spot potential problems early, and unusual lumps and sores should be investigated
Risk factors can vary according to age, with children and young adults being at the highest risk for warts. For genital HPV infection the number of sexual partners one engages with increases the risk of infection, as does having a weakened immune system.

If you have any questions or concerns about possible HPV infection or oral cancer, please give our team a call today.