The Challenge of Oral HPV: Little did I know…

Mikaela Kramer, Oregon State University 

Oregon Immunization Program HPV Intern

Little did I know there was more to the human papillomavirus (HPV) than I had thought. As the HPV intern at the Oregon Health Authority’s Immunization Program, I expected the internship to be challenging, given all the information I’d be acquiring. However, I did not completely understand the complexity of HPV, in particular, HPV oropharyngeal (mouth) cancer. I had the basic knowledge that HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it revolves around the genital area and if not prevented or treated HPV can lead to warts and sometimes cervical cancer. I, like many others, was unfamiliar with oral HPV. Oral HPV is a growing threat to all of us. Oral HPV can lead to cancer of the mouth and throat.

While we know HPV is one of the most common STIs, oral HPV is likely just as common. Human papillomavirus can infect the mouth and throat, it can lead to warts in the mouth and in some cases oropharyngeal cancers. In 2012, HPV related oropharyngeal cancer became the most common HPV associated cancer surpassing HPV related cervical cancer rates.  According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) HPV-Associated Cancer Trends, men are four times more likely to get oropharyngeal cancer than woman.

 

Number of HPV-Associated Cancers Among Men by Year and Cancer Site, United States, 2003 -2013

men_sex_year_cases

Number of HPV-Associated Cancers Among Women by Year and Cancer Site, United States, 2003 – 2013 

women_sex_year_cases

 

Exactly how oral HPV is spread and the impact the HPV vaccine to prevent oral HPV associate cancers is not entirely known. More research is needed to refine diagnosis of oropharyngeal cancers, identify what populations are most likely to develop oral HPV infections, and vaccine efficacy.

The best form of prevention we have from any HPV associated cancers is the 2-dose HPV vaccination series recommended for all 11 and 12 year olds. I’ve had my HPV vaccination series and hope all Oregon children have the opportunity to be protected with this vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention, the HPV vaccine could prevent oropharyngeal cancers because of the HPV strains the vaccine contains but studies have not yet been completed to show the HPV vaccine prevents oropharyngeal cancers.

 

References:

HPV-Associated Cancer Trends Among Men by Year. (2017, February 06). Retrieved July 31, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/statistics/trends/men.htm

HPV-Associated Cancer Trends Among Women by Year. (2017, February 06). Retrieved July 31, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/statistics/trends/women.htm

Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, July 17) Retrieved August 24, 2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/basic_info/hpv_oropharyngeal.htm

 

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