Wednesday, November 24, 2010

HPV and Oral Cancer

For as long as the media has been mentioning HPV in its articles and news segments, it has been in relation to its sexually transmitted status and as causing dysplasia (cell changes) and cancer in the genital region. This included predominantly the cervix but was also mentioned to include the vagina, vulva and anus. Rarely did the media cover HPV in men and its connection to penile cancer and also anal cancer in men.

Well now, the media has another area on which to focus when it comes to HPV – the mouth. In recent studies at Johns Hopkins, studies have shown at 25 percent head and neck cancers are indeed caused by HPV. Of that 25 percent, 90 percent have been isolated and shown to be HPV strain 16.

Listed as one of the “high risk” strains of HPV, HPV16 causes 50 percent of all cervical cancer, at least half, with the remainder attributed to HPV18 at 20 percent and a combination of others making up the difference.

Many parents who have been against the HPV vaccine being included as part of the mandatory childhood vaccinations offer for their opposition the fact that HPV is not transmitted as many other virus are, such as air-borne. However, so much new information is coming to light about HPV that this may end up being more of an excuse than anything else.

Using the herpes virus as an example, we have been told many things over the years which have since be proven to be untrue. An example of this is the fact that the virus cannot be spread unless the individual is having an active outbreak.

When it comes to HPV, one of the most significant findings of late has been fomites. These are inanimate objects which can carry the virus and transmit it to another individual. Fomites can be totally non-sexually related. The human papillomavirus has been found in various body fluids, among them saliva. What grade-school student hasn’t shared a soda or other drink? What athlete hasn’t shared a water bottle at a sports event?

Until recently, HPV was believed only to be sexually related but now even kissing is in question when it comes to transmitting the disease. This recent discovery that HPV constitutes one-quarter of oral cancers (head/neck) certainly does shed new light on beliefs held less than a decade ago, and while oral HPV can be contracted via oral sex, it requires us to question just how extensive the virus is, and to accept the fact that it is no longer just genitally based.