HPV: Greatest risk factor for oral cancer

Dr Sharon Robinson

Saturday, April 09, 2016

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THE human papilloma virus (HPV) is a double-stranded deoxyribonucleic acid virus that infects the epithelial cells of skin and mucosa. The moist epithelial surfaces (squamous cells) include all areas covered by skin and/or mucosa such as the mouth’s interior, throat, tongue, tonsils, vagina, cervix, vulva, penis (the urethra - the opening), and anus.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV is a different virus from HIV and HSV (herpes). HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.

The leading cause of oropharyngeal cancer, which is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the oropharynx, is from HPV. The oropharynx is the middle part of the pharynx (throat) behind the mouth, it includes: back one-third of the tongue, soft palate, side and back walls of the throat, tonsils.

A very small number of oral cavity cancers also occur from HPV. Experts suspect that changes in oral sex practices have a lot to do with it.

There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause health problems, including genital warts and cancers, but there are vaccines that can prevent these problems.

HPV16 is the version most responsible for oropharyngeal cancer, and affects both males and females.


Number of sexual partners: The greater your number of sexual partners, the more likely you are to contract a genital HPV infection, and when engaging in oral sex, this also holds true for oral infections. Having sex with a partner who has had multiple sex partners also increases your risk.

Weakened immune systems: People who have weakened immune systems are at greater risk of HPV infections. Immune systems can be weakened by HIV/AIDS or by immune system-suppressing drugs used after organ transplants.


This list considers both oral cancers from HPV and those from tobacco and alcohol:

• An ulcer or sore that does not heal within two to three weeks;

• A red, white, or black discolouration on the soft tissues in the mouth;

• Difficult or painful swallowing. A sensation that things are sticking in the throat when swallowing;

• A swollen but painless tonsil. When looking inside the mouth, tonsils on both sides should be symmetrical in size;

• Pain when chewing;

• A persistent sore throat or hoarse voice;

• A swelling or lump in the mouth;

• A painless lump felt on the outside of the neck, which has been there for at least two weeks;

• A numb feeling in the mouth or lips;

• Constant coughing;

• An ear ache on one side (unilateral), which persists for more than a few days.


Throughout the month of April, the Dental Place Cosmetix Spa, located at Winchester Business Centre, 15 Hope Road, Shop #5, Kingston 10, will be offering free oral cancer screenings and 50 per cent off your dental cleanings. Schedule your appointment by calling 630-4710.

Dr Sharon Robinson DDS has offices at the Dental Place Cosmetix Spa located at Shop #5, Winchester Business Centre, 15 Hope Road, Kingston 10. Dr Robinson is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica, School of Oral Health Sciences. She may be contacted at 630-4710, or you may visit the website .www. dentalplace4u.com




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