Oral HPV Cancer
The month of April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Even reading the word cancer can cause anxiety for many people, but some basic knowledge about prevention and early detection can greatly reduce your risk of developing oral cancer. While there are many different causes of oral cancer, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a major cause that is readily preventable.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States with 14 million cases being diagnosed each year. There are over 40 different types (strains) of this virus, and it can affect many parts of the body, including the mouth. Most cases of oral HPV are cleared by the body’s immune system within one to two years, but some individuals can develop chronic infection which most commonly leads to oral warts, but can also progress to oral cancer in some patients over time. Oral HPV account for 9,000 cases of oral cancer every year, and is thought to be the underlying cause of 70% of oral cancers seen in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
When oral HPV does cause cancer, it is usually is found in the back of the throat, making it challenging to see on your own. Patients may report having a combination of the following symptoms: a sore throat that does not go away, hoarseness of voice, pain with swallowing, white or red patches, or unintentional weight loss. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see your dentist right away. If your dentist suspects you may have oral cancer, they will refer you to a specialist who will confirm the diagnosis with a biopsy and then discuss further treatment options.
While no disease is completely preventible, there are many steps you can take to reduce the risk of acquiring oral HPV. One of the simplest and most effective measures is the HPV vaccine. The CDC recommends that all boys and girls receive two doses of the HPV vaccine between ages 11 and 12. While no vaccine is perfect, the HPV vaccine is thought to be over 80% effective at preventing oral HPV infection. You can talk to your child’s physician or pediatrician for more information about the HPV vaccine and how to get vaccinated.
Unfortunately, vaccination does not treat HPV infections that are already present and cannot treat oral cancer that has already developed because of an HPV infection. Your health care providers at Spring Lake Dental Group perform routine oral cancer screenings at hygiene appointments, but if you notice anything unusual please speak up and let your provider know!
You can read more about oral HPV and additional steps you can take to protect you and your family from the ADA and the CDC at the links below: https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/h/hpv-and-oral-cancer and https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/basic_info/hpv_oropharyngeal.htm.
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