Home Diagnosis Guide Understanding Oral HPV and How It Affects Your Health and Wellbeing

Understanding Oral HPV and How It Affects Your Health and Wellbeing

by DrPrem Jagyasi
Human-Papilloma-Virus

What is Oral HPV?

HPV, or more commonly known as Human Papilloma Virus is the most common form of sexually transmitted disease. It is characterised by warts in and around the genital area. The infection occurs mainly by skin to skin contact, or the virus makes its way into the body through any opening or cut in the skin. Oral HPV affects the mouth, throat and the tonsil area which gets sore with abrasions.  There exist more than 40 different types of HPV, including those which affect the genital area, as well as the throat. The latter is also known as tonsillar HPV.
How can one contract Oral HPV?

Human-Papilloma-VirusSince HPV is the most common form of sexually transmitted infections, oral HPV is also mainly transmitted by unprotected sexual contact. People indulging in frequent oral sexual activities are more at risk of contracting oral HPV, and so are the ones who have multiple sexual partners. Some of the other possible ways of transmitting HPV are as follows:

  • Not maintaining oral hygiene is the leading cause of falling prey to HPV after oral sex. Bad oral health provides good breeding ground for the virus which, in turn, affects the tonsillar and throat area considerably.
  • Smoking increases the chances of becoming prone to oral HPV by a great margin. Non-smokers are at low risk of contracting this infection than frequent, regular and chain smokers.
  • The chances of landing an HPV infection increase by 20% for those who have had over 20 sexual partners in a lifetime. 

What are the effects of Oral HPV?

Human-Papilloma-Virus

HPV infection can pose serious threat to the overall health of the body. Though curable, it is not easily diagnosed which reduces possibility of it being completely cured. Many warts and abrasions arising due to infections later go on to become tumours. Some of these tumours are benign initially, which gradually start showing cancerous signs. There are no apparent signs and symptoms associated with this infection, which make its diagnosis even more difficult.

A HPV infection may or may not result in oropharyngeal cancer. A clear majority of HPV infections do not become cancerous, but a few of them do. Among all people who have been infected with HPV, smokers, tobacco users and drinker are at greater risk of acquiring HPV- positive oral cancer. People with oropharyngeal cancer are mostly young adults with heavy smoking and drinking habits. Some of the signs of HPV-positive oral cancer are as follows:

Signs of HPV- positive oral cancer

Sore throat

  • Sore throat and sore painful tonsils, swelling which extends to the jaw
  • A rough and hoarse voice
  • Red and white patches on the tonsils
  • Numbness of the tongue
  • Visible blood during coughing
  • Visible lumps around the neck, cheek and jaw 

How can it be addressed?

Human-Papilloma-Virus

The best and the most effective way to address HPV infections is to prevent them. There are plenty of vaccines available for the prevention of cervical cancer in women even if HPV infection occurs, but there are no known vaccines for preventing oropharyngeal cancer by oral HPV. Girls as young as 12 years old can be given vaccinations to prepare them to face this issue.

Also, another way is to keep a tab on your sex-life. Abstain from having unprotected sex with multiple  partners, especially whose sexual history is unknown. Oral sex also needs to be done with care, since that is mainly how oral HPV spreads. There are various other treatments available for people with oral HPV infection, which ensure the infection does not turn malignant.

Usually, for oropharyngeal cancer, radiation or chemotherapy is prescribed. The aftermath of these treatments involves reconstruction of certain parts of the oral cavity that were affected or had to be removed during the surgical procedure. Oral HPV is a serious condition which needs to be dealt with care and patience, and with the proper diagnosis and correct treatment procedure.