Oral Cancers Caused by HPV

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most commonly transmitted sexually transmitted disease (STD), with over 14 million new cases each year in America. While a vast majority of people don’t experience any symptoms or health concerns from HPV, a very small percentage of HPV cases can develop into cancer. Oropharyngeal cancer has now surpassed cervical cancer as the most common cancer caused by HPV. 

HPV is passed through genital contact, most often during vaginal, anal and oral sex. It is not believed you can acquire HPV from sitting on a toilet seat, sharing food or utensils, hugging, or mosquito bites. 

Oropharyngeal Cancer and HPV

The nearly 200 strains of HPV known to affect humans and other species are broken down into two types: low-risk and high-risk. Some low risk viruses may lead to anal, nasal, oral and laryngeal warts. High Risk types of HPV can cause cancer or pre-cancerous changes, but do not cause warts. 

Remember, a positive HPV test does not mean you have cancer or will ever have cancer. Out of the estimated 79 million cases of HPV in America, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that about 44,000 Americans get HPV related cancer each year - less than 0.001%.

About 10% of men and 3.6% of women have oral HPV, according to the CDC. Oropharyngeal cancer, which may affect the palatine and lingual tonsils, the back third of the tongue, the soft palate, and the posterior pharyngeal wall, most commonly develops in people with HPV16. Only 1% of individuals that develop a high-risk HPV infection develop oropharyngeal cancer. 

HPV is not known to cause other head and neck cancers, including those in the mouth, larynx, nose, lips or salivary glands. 

Symptoms of Oropharyngeal Cancer

While HPV does not have any symptoms, the cancer causing effects of the virus may cause symptoms. If you have any of the symptoms listed below, it does not mean you have an HPV-related oral cancer. Consult with your healthcare professional if you’re concerned. 

The following are symptoms related to oropharyngeal cancer:

  • An ulcer that doesn’t heal within 2-3 weeks

  • Red, white or black discoloration of your mouth’s soft tissue

  • Difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing

  • Swollen, but painless tonsils

  • Pain when chewing

  • A persistent sore throat or hoarse voice

  • Swelling or a lump in your mouth

  • Neck pain that persists for longer than 2 weeks

  • Numb mouth or lips

  • Constant coughing

  • A persistent earache on one side

Get Tested for HPV

You shouldn’t let fear stop you from knowing if you have HPV or not. Most cases will not cause harm and you may not even notice symptoms if you are HPV positive. Just remember that a positive test does not mean you have cancer. 

Though oropharyngeal cancer that occurs in correlation with HPV16 is rare, knowing if you’re at risk is always the first step. SelfCollect can help. We offer confidential at-home tests for HPV, including oral HPV. The testing kit arrives in the mail in a nondescript box. All you have to do is follow the instructions, collect your sample and send it back. A notification will be sent via text message or email when your results are complete. 

You can also select an optional add-on that detects all HPV genotypes. If you are HPV positive, this test can tell you what strain you have. Take the embarrassment of being questioned by a doctor out of the equation with SelfCollect. We’re here to help you.