Sexually Transmitted Virus Now #1 Cause of Oral Cancer


In April 2011, Dr. Maura Gillison, a long-time researcher of the relationship between Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and oral cancers at the renowned James Cancer Center at Ohio State University in Columbus, broke the news to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science that Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a sexually-transmitted virus, has replaced tobacco as the number-one cause of oral cancers.

Even though the number of new cases of oral cancer has been dropping over the last three decades due to a decrease in tobacco usage, cancers from the Human Papilloma Virus, specifically HPV16, have steadily increased and are affecting a new segment of the population in alarming numbers. This is one of the same viruses responsible for the majority of cervical cancers in women.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the Human Papilloma Virus is passed on through genital contact. HPV is not the same as herpes or HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). These are all viruses that can be passed on during sex, but they cause different symptoms and health problems.

Oral cancer, such as mouth, tongue, tonsil and throat cancers, has historically been a disease associated with individuals over age 50 who have used tobacco during their lifetimes in any form – cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chew or snuff. Now the paradigm has changed. The fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population consists of people 25-50 years old who have never been smokers.

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, this year alone, 37,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer. HPV16, one of about 130 versions of the virus, will be found in approximately 60% of newly diagnosed patients in the 25-50 age range.

Oral Cancer from Human Papilloma Virus Harder to Detect

These types of cancers are mostly localized to the posterior of the mouth — in the oropharynx, tonsils, and at the base of the tongue. These locations make identifying the “high risk” individual more difficult than other oral cancers.

To reduce the risk of oral cancer caused by HPV, the CDC lists preventive measures such as HPV vaccines for men and women, use of condoms and avoiding sexual contact with multiple partners. Additionally, other preventive measures include not using tobacco products, eating a healthy diet that includes at least five helpings of fruits and vegetables daily and wearing lip balm outdoors even on cloudy days. As with other cancers, regular screenings by dentists and oral and maxillofacial surgeons can help detect oral cancer in its earlier stages.

No-Obligation Consultation

If your dentist or physician recommends a consultation with an oral and maxillofacial specialist, contact Face and Jaw Surgery Center at one of our four, convenient North Dakota locations. Our surgeons are specially trained in oral cancer and other types of pathologies of the mouth and have performed thousands of oral surgeries. We can evaluate your condition and recommend the most effective treatment plan.

Face and Jaw Surgery Center serves all of North Dakota and North West Minnesota including Moorhead, MN and East Grand Forks, MN.

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