HPV oral and oropharyngeal cancers are harder to discover than tobacco related cancers because the symptoms are not always obvious to the individual who is developing the disease, or to professionals that are looking for it. They can be very subtle and painless. A dentist or doctor should evaluate any symptoms that you are concerned with, and certainly anything that has persisted for two or more weeks. Although there are many adjunctive oral cancer screening devices and tests, currently none of them can find HPV positive oral and oropharyngeal cancers early. There are oral HPV infection tests on the dental market, and while they will find an oral HPV infection which as many as 26 million Americans have on any given day, (NHANES study, ongoing), that is no indicator that a person will cascade into an oral/oropharyngeal cancer. The foundation feels that while these tests find infections through a well-recognized testing protocol (PCR testing), since only about 1% of individuals that develop a high risk type oral HPV infection ever cascade into cancer, and that most often occurs decades after infection, that the utility of the test is highly in question when in it comes to providing meaningful and actionable information. The best way to screen for HPV related oral and oropharyngeal cancer today is through a visual and tactile exam given by a medical or dental professional, who will also do an oral history taking to ask about signs and symptoms that cover things that are not visible or palpable. Most of the symptoms of a developing HPV positive infection are discovered by asking questions not using a test, a light or other device to do so. Like other cancer screenings you engage in, such as cervical, skin, prostate, colon and breast examinations, opportunistic oral cancer screenings are an effective means of finding cancer at its early, highly curable stages. However like many other cancer screening techniques, this process is not 100% effective, is highly problematic in HPV origin disease, and any screening technique or technology can miss things. This is why it is so important that persistent problems, those which do not resolve in a short period of time like 2-3 weeks, are pursued until a definitive diagnosis of what it is, is established. Most of the time these will be issues that are not cancer, but persistent problems need to be addressed, cancer or not.
- HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus and infection in the US.
- There are nearly 200 different strains of HPV, most of which are harmless and do not cancer. Out of all these, 9 are known to cause cancers, and another 6 are suspected of causing cancers as they are commonly found along with one of the nine we know to be oncogenic. In oral cancers, we are primarily concerned with HPV number 16 which is also associated with cervical, anal, and penile cancers besides those of the oropharynx.
- You can have HPV without ever knowing it because the virus often produces no signs or symptoms that you will notice, and the immune response to clear it is not a process that you will be aware of.
- Every day in the US, about 12,000 people ages 15 to 24 are infected with HPV. According to data from the ongoing NHANES study, approximately 26 million Americans on any given day have an oral HPV infection. Of those approximately 2600 are HPV16. The vast majority of individuals will clear the virus naturally through their own immune response, and never know that they were exposed or had it.
- If you test positive for HPV, there is no sure way to know when you were infected with HPV, or who gave it to you. A person can have HPV for many years, even decades, before it is detected or it develops into something serious like a cancer. In the vast majority of infected people, even with a high-risk version of HPV known to cause cancers, they will not develop cancer.
- Testing positive for an HPV infection does not mean that you or your partner is having sex outside of your relationship. It is believed to have long periods of inactivity or dormancy that may even cover decades; these are periods of time that you will test negative for it.
- Sexual partners who have been together for a while tend to share all types of sexual infections. Typically if one partner has a fungal infection like Candida, the other partner has it as well, even though they may appear to be asymptomatic. The same is true of other common sexual infections like Chlamydia, a bacterial infection. HPV viral infections also are commonly shared. This means that the partner of someone who tests positive for HPV likely has HPV already, even though they may have no signs or symptoms. Like most Americans, their immune system will customarily clear it in under 2 years.
- Condoms may lower your chances of contracting or passing the virus to your sexual partners if used all the time and the right way. However, HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom- so condoms may not fully protect against HPV.
- Because of its ubiquitous nature, the CDC says that more than 80% of Americans will have an HPV infection in their lifetimes. For most of us, this occurs late in our teens and twenties when our sexual activity is the highest and the number of partners is likely the greatest.
HPV and Oral Cancer:
- HPV is the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancers; pri