HPV and Oral Cancer: What Everyone Should Know
Oral cancer is defined as cancer found in the mouth area and throat area at the back of the mouth (oral cavity and oropharynx). Oral cancer still poses only a small risk, as about 1 in 10,000 people are afflicted with it. According to the American Cancer Society, oral cancer is diagnosed in about 30,000 Americans every year, most of these cases being men. The main causes of oral cancer are tobacco use and alcohol use, though there is now research being done that shows that HPV is being found in some oral cancer patients. HPV, particularly versions 16 and 18, is conclusively implicated in the increasing incidence of young non-smoking oral cancer patients.
HPV Cervical Cancer and Oral Cancer Link
The same strains that are now known to cause cervical cancer are also being looked at as a possible cause for oral cancer. HPV strain 16 is the most commonly found strain in patients whose oral cancer was HPV positive. Recent research from Johns Hopkins indicates that HPV has been found in about 25% of oral cancers. These researchers also found that tumors caused by an HPV strain may be less deadly than other cancer forms, possibly because they do not invade deep tissues or spread as fast. The death rate for oral cancer is surprisingly high, possibly due to the fact that the cancer is usually found in its later stages. Often it is not discovered until it has already spread to the lymph nodes of the neck. The prognosis is far worse when the cancer is found after it has already spread than if it were found in its localized area. Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because of the high risk of producing future tumors. Patients, who survive a first fight with oral cancer, have up to a 20 times higher risk of developing a second cancer. This increased risk factor can last for 5 to 10 years after the first occurrence, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. There are several types of oral cancers, but 90% are squamous cell carcinomas.
Sign and Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Signs and symptoms to watch for are a white or red patch of tissue in the mouth, or a small ulcer which looks like a common canker sore. Any sore or suspicious looking spot that does not heal or go away within 2 weeks should be checked out by a doctor or dentist. The most common areas for oral cancer to develop are on the lips, the tongue and the floor of the mouth. The base of the tongue at the back of the mouth and on the tonsils, are other sites where it is commonly found. Smoking and drinking alcohol can also help promote HPV invasion by damaging cell DNA. Men are more likely to get oral cancer partly because they are more likely to use alcohol and tobacco, especially cigars and chewing tobacco. The gender ratio for oral cancer is about 2 men for every 1 woman. There has been no difference found between men and women with how likely the HPV infection is to cause cancer. It is believed that the HPV virus can infect orally through both cunnilingus and fellatio.
Preventing HPV and Oral Cancer
Research groups that are developing HPV vaccines think they may prevent HPV related oral infections as well as genital infections. Keeping your body healthy and your immune system at its peak is one of the best ways to help fight off an HPV infection if you were to get one. Taking a proactive approach to your health and well being can provide you with a healthy life down the road.