The Battle Against HPV

The virus that causes oral cancer shares characteristics with cervical cancer.

HEALTH Imagine an invasion of over 120 soldiers. Four are special ops. Their sole intent is to get under your skin – a goal already achieved in more than three quarters of their targets. The prominent soldiers go by the names HPV-16, HPV-18, HPV-31, and HPV-45. They literally invade the skin with nearly invisible and often flat cancer-causing growths. [1] One person per hour dies from oral cancer.

The Attack

The most dangerous attackers, HPV-16 and HPV-18, thrive in the genital tract and oral mucosa such as the back of the tongue, the oropharynx, tonsils and the tonsillar pillars; they are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers. HPV-6 and HPV-11 commonly appear as raised non-cancerous warts on the arms, legs and other skin areas. [1] The most common types are HPV-1, 2 and 4, which cause warts on the hands (palmar warts) and feet (plantar warts). [2]  Bowen's disease is generally indicated by HPV-31, 54, 58, 61, 62, and 73. [3] HPV-6 and 11 may suggest benign recurrent tumors of laryngeal and respiratory papillomatosis [4,5] and cauliflower-like genital warts, [2] called condylomata.

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. Common causes of this vast series of viruses are smoking, chewing tobacco, immoderate alcohol consumption, and promiscuous sex. In fact, over 30 types of HPV can be passed from one person to another through sexual contact. [6] But strains of HPV can also be transferred from seemingly "safe" contact like open-mouth kissing or even skin-to-skin contact [6] with an infected individual – touching an exposed wart. Nearly everyone has some type of HPV at some point in their life, with chances increasing with age.

Some types of HPV are innocuous; others are automatically eliminated by a healthy immune system. Most HPV infections in young females are temporary and have little long-term significance. Seventy percent of infections are gone in 1 year and 90 percent in 2 years. But when infection persists – in 5 to 10 percent of infected women – there is high risk of developing cervical precancer (lesions on the cervix), which can progress to invasive cervical cancer. This process usually takes 15-20 years, providing many opportunities for detection and treatment of the pre-cancerous condition, often with high cure rates. [7]

Fight Back

The best defense against dangerous types of HPV is prevention. Two FDA-approved HPV vaccines show greater efficacy prior to infection for females between 9 and 26 years old (Gardasil and Cervarix). [8] About 30 percent of cervical cancers will not be prevented by these vaccines. [6] Avoid risky sex and non-monogamous practices. Sexually active women should have regular Papanicolaou (Pap) smears to detect early signs of cervical cancer.

Have six-month dental examinations performed by a professional that screens for oral cancer. Many dentists are using florescence devices such as the VisiLite or VELscope (sidebar video) to discover basal cell carcinoma a year or more before it becomes visible to the naked eye. Upon discovery they are likely to refer patients to an otolaryngologist (ENT doctor).

Annual examinations for lumps and moles are recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. New moles appearing after age 20 should be examined by a dermatologist. [9]

Tags: carcinogenic, cutaneous, dermatological, gynecology, lesions, oncogenic, sores

  1. The HPV Connection. Oral Cancer Foundation
  2. HPV: Bare-Bones Basics. (excerpt from What Your Doctor May Not Tell you About HPV and Abnormal PAP Smears), Dr. Joel Palefsky, 2008,
  3. Uezato H, et al. Detection of Human Papilloma Virus Type 56 in Extragenital Bowen's Disease. Acta Derm Venereol. 1999; 79: 311-313
  4. Quiney RE, et al. Laryngeal papillomatosis: correlation between severity of disease and presence of HPV 6 and 11 detected by in situ DNA hybridisationJ Clin Pathol. 1989; 42(7): 694-698
  5. Naylor M. Cutaneous Human Papillomavirus Infections.
  6. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines. National Cancer Institute
  7. Human papillomavirus. Wikipedia
  8. Essential Screening Tests Every Woman Needs.
  9. Skin Conditions: Moles, Freckles and Skin Tags.