HPV and Oral Cancer
Q: What are the issues I have been hearing about regarding an increase in oral cancer and HPV?
A: Some famous patients have brought this subject into the media over the last decade: Eddie Van Halen, Michael Douglas and film critic, Roger Ebert.
- HPV is the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancers; primarily the tonsils, tonsillar crypt, the base of the tongue (the very back of the mouth and part of what in lay terms might be called a part of the throat), and a very small number of front of the mouth, oral cavity cancers.
- More males than females will develop oropharyngeal cancers. Males take a far greater number of sexual partners to seroconvert an infection into a systemic protective antibody. This increased number of partners and exposure before the development of a protective antibody against the invading virus is the reason that more males will later in life develop oropharyngeal cancers than females.
- The fastest growing segment of the oral and oropharyngeal cancer population are otherwise healthy, non-smoking individuals in the 35-55 age range. When you consider both anatomical sites, the growth is in oropharyngeal HPV positive cancers primarily.
- White, non-smoking males age 35 to 55 are most at risk, 4 to 1 over females.
- In the oral/oropharyngeal environment, HPV manifests itself primarily in the posterior regions (the oropharynx) such as the base of the tongue, the back of the throat, the tonsils, the tonsillar crypts, and tonsillar pillars.
- Number of sexual partners- The greater your number of sexual partners, the more likely you are to contract a genital HPV infection; and when engaging in oral sex, this also holds true for oral infections. Having sex with a partner who has had multiple sex partners also increases your risk.
- Weakened Immune Systems- People who have weakened immune systems are at greater risk of HPV infections. Immune systems can be weakened by HIV/AIDS or by immune system-suppressing drugs used after organ transplants.
Make sure your hygienist is screening your oral cavity at each visit for suspicious lesions, such as ulcerations, reddened areas or speckled white and red areas.
Dr. Mitchell Josephs practices Implant, Cosmetic and General Dentistry with an emphasis on implants, porcelain veneers, and complex crown and bridge treatment. He is on staff at JFK Medical Center and is a Faculty Advisory Board member at McGill University’s Faculty of Dentistry. He completed his residency at Manhattan’s Beth Israel Medical Center and Mt. Sinai Hospital.