Written by: Beth Levine
The human papillomavirus, better known as HPV, is a common virus that can potentially cause very serious diseases such as cervical cancer. Now, new research has found that HPV can also be carried within the mouth, and may be present there in approximately seven percent of Americans.1
The study, which took place at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in Columbus, focused on information from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2009 to 2010. The researchers not only went over the questionnaires and physical exam findings for 5,579 participants between the ages of 14 and 69, but also the results of an oral rinse that enabled the extraction of mouth skin cells to test for the presence of HPV. This is similar to the method used to test for HPV in the cervix.
Oral HPV was detected in 6.9 percent of the volunteers. This is nowhere near the rates found for genital HPV infection, which is present in as many as 42 percent of twentysomething women. So, if the numbers are comparatively low, why is this necessarily a big deal? Because oral HPV infections may very well have a lot to do with the rise in cases of mouth and throat cancer over the past couple of decades.
There is no doubt that HPV, although often asymptomatic and not dangerous, can cause cancer. HPV is responsible for the majority of cases of cervical cancer, causing an estimated 4,220 deaths in the United States annually, according to information from the National Cancer Institute.2 HPV has also been linked to penile, anal, and vulvar cancer. And a 2011 study at the National Cancer Institute and Johns Hopkins associated nearly three-quarters of new diagnoses of oral cancer with HPV infection, which makes it the number one cause of oral cancer, ahead of even tobacco. >