Today on his show, Dr. Oz revealed that a new cause of oral cancer is the Human Papillomavirus, also known as HPV. Click here for a full recap of the Dr Oz Show.
Introducing the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Summertime! Bright blue skies, vibrant yellow daisies, and young love. Summertime is when teenagers are free from school and unfortunately, liberated from frequent adult supervision. This can lead to disastrous consequences more far reaching than simply the casual “first kiss” or loss of virginity. It can have devastating and life-threatening consequences far and above pregnancy. It can lead to the contracting of HPV, the human papillomavirus, which is responsible for more than just cervical cancer. It has now been linked to vaginal, penile and anal cancers as well as oral and throat cancers.
The statistics, as reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, are as follows for the various cancers and the percentage linked to HPV:
- Cervical cancer – Nearly 100%
- Anal cancer – Approximately 85%
- Vaginal cancer – Approximately 70%
- Penile and vulvar cancers – Approximately 40%
- Throat cancer – Approximately 30%
- Oral Cancer – Approximately 25%
Although the percentages for throat and oral cancers remains the lowest, and mostly attributed to the use of tobacco and alcohol products, these two cancers are on the rise, at alarming rates, in teenagers and young adults.
According to an article published by LifeSiteNews.com on March 4, 2011, Dr. Anthony Nichols of the London Health Sciences Center in Ontario, Canada remarks “Younger people, that are healthy, that are non-smokers and non-drinkers are developing cancers of the tonsil and the back of the tongue.” The problem with the human papillomavirus (HPV) is it can remain dormant for decades. Dr. Nichols continues, stating the rates of oral and throat cancers linked to HPV are increasing at 3% annually which is a significant statistic in terms of cancer. The article addressed a staggering research discovery from Dr. Maura Gillison of Ohio State University which revealed a 225% increase in oral cancers between 1974 and 2007, predominantly in white males. The Oral Cancer Foundation is quoted as stating
“HPV has now been shown to be sexually transmitted between partners and is conclusively implicated in the increasing incidence of young nonsmoking oral cancer patients… Based on recent data, it appears that in people under the age of 50, HPV-associated oral cancers may even be replacing tobacco as the primary causative agent in the initiation of the disease process.”
While the statistics spread alarming concern, the contracting of this virus is preventable through safe sex and abstinence. HPV is most often contracted through contact with multiple partners making it far more likely to develop during the teenage and young adult stages since oral sex is considered “safe with less risky consequences.” The sad fact is it is far from “safe” and is “highly risky!” Annual oral and genital screenings are recommended for everyone who has engaged in any measure of sexual activity regardless of age. This should include a pap smear for females and an anal screening for homosexual males.
HPV is a common virus and most people will become infected with it at some point in their life. The chemistry of the body normally clears an individual of the human papillomavirus; however, there is no way to predict which individuals will be immune and which will develop infections along with serious medical complications like cancer. The majority of individuals with HPV infections remain without symptomatology until the cancers are advanced and difficult, if not impossible, to treat. The current survival rate of someone diagnosed with advanced oral cancer is about five years.
The greater part of HPV cases in females are caught through routine pap smears and it is no surprise the statistics exposed by Dr. Maura Gillison were astonishing because most often the partner passing the HPV is male because he has no indication he is infected until tell-tale signs begin to appear, usually in a partner. The signs of possible oral cancer according to the CDC include:
- a mouth sore that fails to heal or that bleeds easily
- a white or red patch in the mouth that will not go away
- a lump, thickening or soreness in the mouth, throat, or tongue
- ear pain, specifically located on one side
- difficulty chewing or swallowing food
- hoarseness or changes in the voice
The American Dental Association has created a campaign for routine dental screening for indications of oral or pharyngeal cancers. While some oral cancers are caught through this visual physical examination, some may require other measures such as the VELscope (the assessment of abnormal tissue through a specialized light diagnostic test) and the OralCDx Brush Test which is like an oral pap smear where the dentist scrapes some suspect cells and sends them out to a laboratory for evaluation.
Active practice of safe sex as well as proactive demand of annual screenings by both your physician and dentist will provide the best protection against the development of cancers related to HPV as well as increase the survival rate among those infected through early diagnosis.