While tobacco and alcohol consumption remain the chief causes of oral cancer, the number of cases caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) have been increasing. In fact, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 4.0% of all adults in the United States age 18 to 69 years have one or more of the 14 high-risk types of HPV known to cause oral cancer.
“This research is fueled by the rising incidence of HPV-positive oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC), soon to be the most common HPV-related cancer in the United States, surpassing cervical cancer,” said Jo-Anne Jones, RDH, an educator and specialist in oral cancer. “We understand that a persistent infection with a high-risk strain is the pathway to oral and oropharyngeal cancer. This data substantiates the fear that HPV-related OPSCC is escalating quickly and reaching epidemic proportions.”
The CDC drew its conclusions from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011-2014, which included oral rinse samples. According to the data, 7.3% of all adults in this age range have one or more of the 37 types of oral HPV, which are sexually transmitted. Most sexually active adults acquire the virus at some point in their lives, and they typically pass it within 2 years without symptoms or complications.
The high-risk types of virus are cause for concern, though. By gender, 6.8% of men and 1.2% of women age 18 to 69 years carry high-risk HPV. Its prevalence was lower among non-Hispanic Asian adults overall (1.7%) and among men (2.3%) than non-Hispanic white (4.2%, 7.3% men), non-Hispanic black (4.3% all, 7.5% men), and Hispanic (3.4% all, 5.4% men) adults.
“Globally, we have seen a rise in oral and oropharyngeal cancer rates in recent years, much of which is due to an increase in HPV-related cancers. This trend is particularly alarming as many of these diagnoses are among younger, otherwise healthy nonsmokers who do not fall into the traditional risk group for oral cancers. Additionally, because the symptoms are often hard to identify, the cancers are not detected until they are late stage,” said Matthew H. J. Kim, founder, chairman, and CEO of Vigilant Biosciences.
“A recent survey we conducted found that there is still much work to be done around increasing awareness of oral cancer and the various risk factors for oral cancer. While the majority of US adults recognized tobacco use as a leading risk factor for oral cancer, many were not aware that HPV was also a risk factor. Clearly, more education and prevention is needed around this important topic to help reverse this trend and detect these cancers before it is too late,” Kim said.
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