The Important Link Between HPV and Oral Cancer

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a bit of a modern menace. Within the past few years, incidents of HPV have skyrocketed into prominence and now close to 50% of sexually active men and women will come into some contact with HPV at some points in their lives.

The Good News: Not all strains of HPV are dangerous, or even visible. There are many different strains of the HPV virus, yet only a small amount of the virus strains do cause cancer.

The Bad News: It’s difficult to tell which strain of HPV you’ve contracted, as many of these strains won’t produce side effects. Some strains will cause benign warts on the skin, while others can cause cervical and oral cancer.

In fact, HPV has accounted for a 225% increase in Oropharyngeal (Oral) cancer from 1988-2004. This is made even more concerning by the difficulty of self-diagnosis for HPV related oral cancer cases. HPV related oral cancers generally manifest themselves in the back of the throat, either at the base of the tongue, on the tonsils or the tonsiliar pillars.

HPV Image via 

Prevention and Preparation

Obviously the only way to prevent HPV is to practice safer sexual contact. It’s important to stay as informed as possible on issues of this magnitude.

It’s also important to fully prepare yourself by knowing the symptoms of oral cancer:

  • Continuous pain while chewing or swallowing.
  • Oral lesions that don’t appear to heal.
  • Prolonged ear aches.
  • Bleeding from the mouth.
  • Suspicious discoloration or raised lumps in the throat.
  • Difficult swallowing.

Another option is to consult your physician and ask if you’re right for the HPV vaccine Gardasil. Gardasil can prevent against a limited number of HPV strains, including most of the cancer causing strains. Although it cannot treat existing infections, Gardasil can still protect those with weakened immune systems from coming into further contact with different strains.

While a topic of immense discussion, the importance of understanding HPV’s link to cancer is not something that should be forgotten. Coming at viruses such as HPV with a better understanding is really the first step to prevention.