HPV or Human Papillomavirus is a herpes simplex virus that is known to cause oral or genital herpes and certain cancers. Talk to your Seattle dentists at LeCuyer & Amato Dentistry if you have concerns regarding HPV. The recent link to oral cancer has put dentists on the frontlines of discussion, prevention, and education of their patients. In many cases HPV goes away without causing any significant health problems. HPV is a herpes simplex virus that is known to cause oral or genital herpes and certain cancers. The recent link to oral cancer has put dentists on the frontlines of discussion, prevention, and education of their patients. In many cases HPV goes away without causing any significant health problems.
Oral HPV can affect the mouth and throat and is the same virus that causes genital herpes. Some types of oral HPV (known as “high risk types”) can cause cancers of the head and neck area. Other types of oral HPV (known as “low risk types”) can cause warts in the mouth or throat. In most cases, HPV infections of all types go away before they cause any health problems.
The most common cancers that HPV can cause in the mouth are oropharynx cancers or cancer of the base of the tongue and/or tonsils. HPV can cause normal cells in infected skin to turn abnormal. Most of the time, you cannot see or feel these cell changes. In most cases, the body fights off the HPV infection naturally and infected cells then go back to normal. But in cases when the body does not fight off this virus, HPV can cause visible changes and certain types of HPV can cause an oropharyngeal cancer. Cancer caused by HPV often takes years to develop after initially getting an HPV infection. It is unclear if having HPV alone is sufficient to cause oropharyngeal cancers, or if other factors (such as smoking or chewing tobacco) interact with HPV to cause these cancers. More research is needed to understand all the factors leading to oropharyngeal cancers.
Signs and symptoms may include persistent sore throat, earaches, hoarseness, enlarged lymph nodes, pain when swallowing, and unexplained weight loss. Some persons have no signs or symptoms.
Studies in the U.S. have found that about 7% of people have oral HPV. But only 1% of people have the type of oral HPV that is found in oropharyngeal cancers (HPV type 16). Oral HPV is about three times more common in men than in women.
Each year, in the U.S., about 9,000 people are diagnosed with cancers of the oropharynx that may be caused by HPV. Cancers of the oropharynx are about four times more common in men than women.
HPV vaccines that are now on the market were developed to prevent cervical and other less common genital cancers. It is possible that HPV vaccines might also prevent oropharyngeal cancers, since the vaccines prevent an initial infection with HPV types that can cause oropharyngeal cancers, but studies have not yet been done to determine if HPV vaccines will prevent oropharyngeal cancers.
During your regular dental visits with Drs. LeCuyer, Amato and Guerrero will perform oral cancer exams. Be sure to schedule dental check-ups and exams 2 times annually. Call us at 206-626-5400 to schedule.