Guide to managing oral HPV, throat cancer

Today, many people ignorantly suffer from a form of throat cancer that has been linked to HPV (human papilloma virus), a sexually transmitted disease. It is important to know that those infected by HPV live it with for many years without any symptoms. Infections can come and go completely undetected, frequently disappearing without any treatment. It has been documented to take as long as 15 years from infection to cancer in some people. 

There are different types of HPV. One of the basic HPV classifications is the risk of cancer. HPV can be classified as low-risk or high-risk. HPV can cause many different types of cancer, including cervical and other genital cancers like vulvar, vaginal and penile cancer; oral cancers (including throat, mouth and tonsillar cancer); colorectal and anal cancers; even bladder cancer. Commenting on the September 2013 issue of the journal Oral Oncology, authors including; Fakhry and D’Souza identified some interesting statistics about HPV in mouth and throat cancers. The percentage of mouth and throat cancers caused by HPV is rising sharply, from only 16 per cent in the 1980s to approximately 73 per cent of the mouth and throat cancers in the year 2000. The incidence of mouth and throat cancers is rising as well. From 1988 to 2004, there was a 28 per cent increase in the risk of mouth and throat cancers, primarily in men aged from 50 to 59. Some good news here is that HPV-positive cancers tend to be more responsive to treatment. Also, experts have recommended important guide in the management of HPV. Prevent HPV-related cancers with regular screenings, proper protection, and immune-system support. 

A pap smear can help to screen for the presence of cervical cancer and for the presence of cervical HPV. If you do not know if you are currently being screened for HPV with your pap smear, be sure to ask your practitioner. When you get your HPV test, make sure it screens for high-risk types. Some of the HPV types that put you at the highest risk of cancer are types 16, 18 and 45. Condoms and dental dams have been shown to decrease the transmission of HPV. Looking to the future, therapeutic vaccines will treat HPV once you are already infected, but these are not currently available. Since 2006, two preventative vaccines for HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18 have been available. It has been shown that these vaccines can actually protect against cervical cancer, and scientists speculate that the vaccine may help to prevent other cancers as well. The vaccine is for prevention only. It won’t work on those already infected. Candidates for the vaccine must be between nine and 26 years. 

The decision to vaccinate yourself or your child should be made after thoroughly weighing the risks and benefits. A new August 2013 study, published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, showed that poor oral health is associated with higher risk of oral HPV infection. It is important to use good oral-hygiene techniques, like thorough brushing and flossing to decrease your likelihood of having an oral HPV infection. Factors that will make an HPV infection more likely to turn to cancer include smoking, chewing tobacco, heavy alcohol use and a compromised immune system. People with HIV are much more likely to have HPV-related cancers than non-HIV infected individuals. 

A March 2013 study in the journal Nutrition and Cancer showed that transient HPV infections can be reduced by consuming a high amount of certain foods, including whole fruits and vegetables, nuts and fish. Low intake of fruits and vegetables were associated with a three-fold risk of advanced pre-cancer of the cervix. Remember, there’s a high probability that if you have been sexually active, you have or have had HPV, the sexually transmitted disease. Get screened, prevent transmission of the virus with barrier protection, support your immune system and consider vaccinations for your children or if you are in the appropriate age range.

This story was published in Newswatch Times on October 12,  2013.


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