THE number of oral cancers has increased over a seven-year period, where all other cancer rates have either stabilized or have declined. In fact, one person every 20 minutes of every day, all year long, is getting cancer caused by HPV (human papilloma virus).
This worrisome statistics is shared by a colleague, Dr. Susan Maples, an expert in the oral health and systemic health connections. It’s high time, she says, that everyone needs to know the facts about the HPV/oral cancer connections.”
So much of what we hear and know about HPV has to do with cancer of the cervix However, Dr Maples emphasized that “we have more adults with oral cancer from HPV than cervical cancer.” Oral cancer from HPV can affect both women and men. By 2020, the number of HPV related oral cancers in middle aged men is expected to surpass rates of cervical rates in women.
In the US, both boys and girls at age 11 0r 12 should receive the vaccine against HPV not only to lower the risk of oral cancer but also decrease risk of cervical cancer in females and cancer of the penis in males.
Epidemiological data in the US show that the average age of first sexual encounter is currently 10 to 13 years old. While there is no specific data on this by the WHO on a country-to-country basis, it is logical to assume, considering the rampant use of social media, that the figures are not much different, thus there is a need to spread the word among children, adolescence, teens and young adults that unconventional sexual practices are not safe and can lead to HPV transmission.
Just because a person has been vaccinated does not mean he/she is in the clear. There are 200 known strains of the HPV including the garden varieties that can cause warts in the fingers and feet, and 25 strains have been associated with cancer of the mouth and pharynx, whose leading causes for many decades were tobacco, both smoking and smokeless. Now HPV takes the lead, by more than 10 times the risk of caused by smoking. The other causes include alcohol, old age (40 and above) and of course, genetics.
One big difficulty is that there is no effective screening for HPV oral cancer. It is usually hiding behind the tonsils, in the back of the mouth, in the throat or at the base of the tongue. Saliva may be analyzed for the presence of 51 HPV strains. The Gardasil vaccine only helps protect against nine of the most dangerous strains.
An early oral cancer diagnosis is absolutely critical for survival, otherwise the patient could be left unable to chew or to swallow. Surgery to remove tumors may lead to severe disfigurement. Thus, it is prudent and wise for sexually active persons to have a thorough check up when they visit their ENT or dentist.