What You Need to Know About HPV & Oral Cancer
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It's the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV is usually harmless and goes away by itself but some types can lead to cancer or genital warts.
Genital HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection which usually causes no symptoms and goes away by itself, but can sometimes cause serious illness. HPV is responsible for:
· almost all cases of genital warts and cervical cancer
· 90% of anal cancers
· 65% of vaginal cancers
· 50% of vulva cancers
· 35% of penile cancers
· 60% of oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).
Who is at Risk?
Four out of five people have at least one type of HPV at some time in their lives. It is sometimes called the 'common cold' of sexual activity. HPV infects both men and women. The virus is spread through intimate contact with genital-skin during sexual activity, via tiny breaks in the skin. Usually this happens without anyone ever knowing it or it causing any problems.
HPV can cause cervical and other cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils. Cancer often takes years, even decades, to develop after a person gets HPV. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types of HPV that can cause cancers.
There is no way to know which people who have HPV will develop cancer or other health problems. People with weak immune systems may be less able to fight off HPV. They may also be more likely to develop health problems from HPV.
Is There Any Test For HPV?
Currently, there is no HPV test recommended for men. The only approved HPV tests on the market are for screening women for cervical cancer. They are not useful for screening for HPV-related cancers or genital warts in men. Screening for anal cancer is not routinely recommended for men.
Can HPV Be Cured or Prevented?
There is no treatment for the virus itself. However, there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause:
Genital warts can be treated by your healthcare provider or with prescription medication. If left untreated, genital warts may go away, stay the same, or grow in size or number.
Cervical precancer can be treated. Women who get routine Pap tests and follow up as needed can identify problems before cancer develops. Prevention is always better than treatment.
Other HPV-related cancers are also more treatable when diagnosed and treated early.
Who Should Be Vaccinated?
All boys and girls ages 11 or 12 years should get vaccinated.
Catch-up vaccines are recommended for boys and men through age 21 and for girls and women through age 26, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger.
It is also recommended for men and women with compromised immune systems through age 26, if they did not get fully vaccinated when they were younger.
What Symptoms Should You Look For?
The types of high-risk HPV that can cause cancer rarely present any symptoms in men or in women. Genital warts are the first symptom you may see with low-risk HPV strains that cause warts but not cancer.
How Can Your Dentist Help?
Most medical and dental organizations don't recommend screening for oral HPV. If you've been diagnosed with, or experienced symptoms from HPV, your dentist can take a closer look for early signs of oral cancer.