HPV risks

Mouth Cancer and the Human Papilloma virus

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is one of the most common virus groups in the world to affect the skin and mucosal areas of the body. Over eighty types of HPV have been identified. Different types of the human papillomavirus are known to infect different parts of the body. It infects the epithelial cells of skin and mucosa. The epithelial surfaces include all areas covered by skin and/or mucosa such as the mouth, throat, tongue, tonsils, vagina, penis, and anus. Infection with the virus occurs when these areas come into contact with a virus, allowing it to transfer between epithelial cells. 

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that those infected with HPV were 32 times more likely to develop oral or throat cancers. This finding dwarfs the increased risk associated with two acknowledged factors for developing these cancers: smoking (three times more likely to develop cancer) and drinking (2.5 times). Research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that HPV now accounts for more head and neck cancers than tobacco or alcohol.


The most common forms of the virus produce warts (papilloma's) on the hands, arms, legs, and other areas of the skin. The wart-like growths are called condyloma tissues. Condyloma tissue appears like a small, cauliflower-type growth on the skin. These growths are usually painless, but can cause some irritation, itching, or burning. It can be treated whenever it flares up, and is non malignant. Most HPV's of this type are very common, harmless, non cancerous, and easily treatable. Genital warts are known technically as condylomata acuminatum and are generally associated with two HPV types, numbers 6 and 11 and can be sexually transmitted.

Cervical Cancer and Oral Cancer

There are other forms of HPV which are also sexually transmitted, and are a serious problem. These are; HPV-16, HPV-18, HPV-31, and HPV-45. These cancer-associated types of HPVs cause dysplastic tissue growths that usually appear flat and are nearly invisible. Dysplastic tissue is the presence of abnormal cells on the surface of the skin. Dysplasia is not cancer, but it is a tissue change seen prior to malignancy. A highly studied topic is HPV's ability to cause cervical cancer. Dysplasia can be detected on the female cervix through a Pap smear test, or seen visually using a magnifying glass called a colposcope. The most dangerous HPV's, 16 and 18, which are transmitted through sexual contact are known to cause up to 95% of cervical cancers. Now these two HPV's are also being linked to oral cancer.

A study done by Dr. No-Hee Park showed that the mouth was, at the cellular level, structurally very similar to the vagina and cervix. Both organs have the same type of epithelial cells that are the target of HPV 16 and HPV 18. The majority of oral cancers are cancers of epithelial cells, primarily squamous cell carcinomas, not unlike the cancers that affect the cervix. Dr. Park's study also showed that smoking and drinking alcohol help promote HPV invasion.. Combine tobacco and alcohol with HPV, and the epithelial cells in the mouth, and you may have the formula for the development of an oral cancer.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Maura Gillison at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center furthered the premise that HPV is linked with certain types of oral cancer. In 25% of 253 patients diagnosed with head and neck cancers, the tissue taken from tumors was HPV positive and HPV 16 was present in 90% of these positive HPV tissues. This information helps to confirm that there is a strong link between HPV 16 and oral cancer. 25% of those diagnosed with oral cancer are non-smokers while the other 75% of those diagnosed have used tobacco in some form during their lifetimes. The research into the relationship of HPV and oral malignancies may give us clues as to the origin of cancer in those 25% of diagnosed individuals who did not smoke

Treatments for Warts

Although there is currently no medical cure to eliminate a papillomavirus infection, the squamous intraepithelial lesions (SILs) and warts these viruses cause can be treated. Methods used to treat SILs include cold cautery (freezing that destroys tissue), laser treatment (surgery with a high-intensity light), LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure, the removal of tissue using a hot wire loop), as well as conventional surgery. Similar treatments may be used for external genital warts. In addition, two powerful chemicals (podophyllin and trichloroacetic acid) are capable of destroying external genital warts when applied directly to them. Imiquimod cream has also been recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an effective drug treatment. Imiquimod works by stimulating the immune system to fight the virus.

HPV & Mouth Cancer Leaflet (PDF)



HPV, Marijuana and Oral Cancer: READ this if you smoke pot!!!

A recent study (2008) observed a statistically significant link between HPV-positive oral cancer and marijuana use. The paper sites other research linking cannabinoids found in Marijuana (Cannabis) to suppression of the immune system. Future studies will need to be conducted to confirm the link between HPV-16, marijuana use and oral cancer.

Sexual Activity and Marijuana Use Associated with HPV-Positive Head and Neck Cancer, Study Shows

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have teased out two distinct sets of risk factors for head and neck cancers, suggesting that there are two completely different kinds of the disease. In the Johns Hopkins study, head and neck tumors caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus, were most often linked to certain sexual behaviors and marijuana use, rather than tobacco and alcohol.

HPV Linked to Throat Cancer

Oral Sex Is Major Risk Factor
By Salynn Boyles
WebMD Health News

HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer, is also linked to throat cancer, and oral sex is a major risk factor for both men and women, new research shows. Having multiple oral sex partners topped the list of practices associated with an increased risk of developing oropharyngeal cancer, according to the study published in the May 10 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.