The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that is said to be the leading cause of oral cancer. The HPV virus contains approximately 200 DNA strains and of all those only nine are associated with cancers. HPV16 is primarily associated and concerned with oral cancers and can affect both men and women. Most people with the HPV symptoms are unaware that they have HPV since the virus can be inactive for several weeks and sometimes even years. An individual with HPV therefore is more likely to develop oral cancer. According to CDC, 80% of Americans are bound to be diagnosed with HPV infections at least once in their life. 1 Oral cancers are still considered a relatively small risk globally. Over the past decade, the virus has raised major concerns in media houses and among healthcare practitioners. This study is therefore meant to portray the relationship between HPV and oral cancer it its potential risk factors in relation to the cancer. 2 The findings of this report have been sourced form professional and peer- reviewed scholarly journals.2,3 Understanding the association between HPV and Oral cancer allows dental professionals to give proper care to patients together with timely diagnosis of the cancer and adequate treatments before the condition gets worse.4,5

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Association Between Oral Cancer And HPV (Human Pappilloma Virus)

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According to the CDC1, there s and estimated 6.2 million new infections of HPV reported annually in the United State (U.S.). HPV has been named the leading cause of both the oral and oropharynx cancer. Those at most risk of because diagnosed with oral cancer as a result of HPV are otherwise healthy non- smokers at the age range of 25 -50 years.1 This is because oral cancer may take many years to develop thus not as common in younger people. White non- smoking males between the ages of 35-55 are also said to be at high risk with a ratio of 4 to 1 over females at risk.1,2 Over the last three decades, studies have been able to confirm the relationship and involvement of HPV in causing oral cancer5. Over the past few decades, the rate of HPV association with oral cancers has risen dramatically. The reason behind this remains unknown but the changes in lifestyle and sexual practices has been attributed to the high rate. 4,5

According to research, HPV can make normal body cells in the diseased skin to become abnormal and in most cases one cannot feel these changes. 5The body tends to fight it off naturally and with a short time the cells go back to normal However, there are instances when the body is not immune enough and this lack of immunity leads to the body not being able to fight off the virus. 4This in turn can cause physical changes that and cause cancers a good example being oral cancer. Oral cancer triggered by HPV comes about after years and shows itself depending on the initial HPV infection. 2 It is also important to note that according to research, HPV alone does not lead to oral cancer and there has to be other factors that contribute to the conditions. Some of these factors include; smoking and chewing tobacco. 1

Oral HPV is approximately three times more common in men than in women. Whereas 7% of the people in U.S. 1are detected with oral HPV, only 1% have the kind of HPV that leads to oral cancer. Annually, more than 9,000 people in the U.S. are found infected with oral and oropharyngeal cancers which is said to be more common in mean than women. Thus, risky sexual behaviors are considered to be one of the leading causes of HPV which in turn leads to oral cancer. 2,3Having multiple sexual partners without using protection leads to most individuals contracting HPV infections which puts them at higher risk of contracting oral cancer. 5

Most mouth and throat cancers are HPV- related and are found in men. This is because most men are more likely to smoke and drink at younger ages and indulgence in alcohol and tobacco are among the strongest risk factors that increase the chance of contraction oral HPV infections. 3Also individuals with oral cancer associated with HPV infections tend to be younger are likely to be smokers and drinkers. Research also shows that with the HPV-linked oral cancer becoming more common, most people diagnosed with the condition tend to be younger. 4 Research shows that in the future, HPV-related oral cancer is more likely to occur in men than in women. 5

There are no standard screening tests that can help identify oral cancer early. There is a HPV vaccine in the market that was developed in order to help curb other cancers that are caused by HPV including cervical and genital cancers. 4 Research shows that it is possible that this vaccine can also be used to prevent oral cancers since it prevents an initial infection of HPV that is the causative factor of oropharyngeal cancers. 2,3 However, studies have not yet determined that this vaccine can be used effectively for the prevention of oral cancers. Regular visits to the dentist can also be used as a preventive measure seeing that they can help determine early symptoms of oral cancer. 5

The prospect of having developments can help offer prevention against oral and oropharyngeal cancers. There should also be more research conducted on the transmission of HPV seeing as there are other strong factors that lead to oral cancer. 3 Generally, more research is required in order to understand all the factors leading to oral and oropharyngeal cancers and how people get and transmit HPV infections that are likely to lead to Oral cancers. It would also be important if studies would confirm the people who are at higher risks of developing complications that result from HPV infections. 4,5

  • Control for Disease Control and Prevention. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and cancer. (2016)
  • Rischin, D, Young, R,J, Fisher, R. Significance of p16INK4A and human papilloma- virus in patients with oropharyngeal cancer treated on TRO 02.02 phase III trial. (2010) J Clin Oncol 2010. Vol 28: 4142-4148.
  • Alluri, K.C., Tahari, A.K., Wahi, R.L., Koch, W., Chung, C.H., & Subramaniam, R,M. Prognostic value of FDG PET metabolic tumor volume in human Papillomavirus-positive stage III and IV Oropharyngeal Squamous cell Carcinoma. (2014). American Journal of Roentgenology Vol 203 (4): 897-903.
  • Dayyani, F, Etzel, C,J, Lui, M., & Tsao, A,S. Meta-analysis of the impact of human Papillomavirus (HPV) on cancer risk and overall survival in head and neck squamous cell carcinomas.(2010). Head and Neck Oncology. Vol 2 (15).
  • Ang, K.K., Harris, J, & Wheeler, R. Human Papillomavirus and survival patients with oropharyngeal cancer (2010). N Engl J Med 2010. Vol 363: 24-35.