HPV and Oral Cancer: The Surprising Connection

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You’ve likely heard about the link between the HPV virus and reproductive cancers. But you may be surprised to learn that HPV is also the leading cause of oropharyngeal (oral) cancers.

These cancers of the mouth, throat and tonsils have been on the rise over the past few decades, now accounting for 70 percent of all cases in the United States. Learn more about this surprising connection and what you can do to protect your whole health.

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of mouth or throat cancer may seem like nothing at first, but may linger and cause continual discomfort. Or, you may not experience symptoms at all. Being informed and self-aware of what your body is trying to tell you is key to controlling your health. Symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • Cough that won’t go away
  • Earache on one side that lasts more than a few days
  • Feeling like things are sticking in your throat when swallowing
  • Lump or swelling in your mouth or throat
  • Mouth or throat ulcers that don’t heal in two to three weeks
  • Pain when chewing
  • Red, white or black discoloration of the soft tissues in your mouth
  • Sore throat that doesn’t go away or recurs often with or without hoarseness
  • Swollen lymph nodes on your neck for longer than two weeks
  • Unexplained weight loss

If you notice any of the symptoms listed here or simply have questions about HPV and cancer, call your doctor right away.

Is There a Cure for HPV?

HPV infections are common, but it’s important to note that the majority of people who have HPV will not develop cancer. While there’s currently no cure for HPV, it generally goes away on its own without treatment within two years and doesn’t cause health problems. However, when it doesn’t leave your body and remains for many years, it is a risk factor for oral cancer.

Who Should Get HPV Vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests boys and girls age 11 or 12 should get two doses of the HPV vaccine. And should your initial vaccine be given after age 15, you’ll require an additional dose (a total of three).

The CDC further recommends that men and women up to age 26 get the HPV vaccine if they didn’t get it when they were younger.

Does the HPV Vaccine Prevent Mouth and Throat Cancers?

The HPV vaccines such as Gardasil and Cervarix were actually formulated to prevent cervical and other reproductive organ cancers. So, while they protect against the types of HPV that can lead to oral cancer, there’s no direct indication that the vaccine actually prevents the development of mouth and throat cancers.

Learn more about the AdventHealth Cancer Institute and our leading-edge treatments for head and neck cancers.

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