Can HPV Be Transmitted Orally?

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) can be transmitted orally, not only through oral sex (both fellatio and cunnilingus), but through open-mouthed kissing (French kissing) as well. Furthermore, certain strains of HPV, causing cervical cancer, are also a high-risk factor for developing oral cancer.

A variety of strains of HPV attack different parts of the body. Some cause common warts on the skin; others trigger the development of genital warts. Some are harmless, known as low-risk; while others cause cancer and are high-risk. The HPV virus is easily transmitted through skin-to-skin contact or sexual contact. The infection with HPV viruses may be symptomless for a long time, and most viruses are defeated by the body’s immune system. In fact, sexually active men and women are at 75 percent more risk of getting HPV during their lifetime. However, they may never know they have it because the infection often disappears without any special treatment, even if it was caused by a high-risk strain.

HPV and Oral Cancer

Other infections caused by high-risk strains of HPV can develop into cancer. These are the sexually transmitted genital strains which cause various types of cancer: cervical, anal, and penile. These same HPV strains reportedly cause oral (oropharyngeal) cancer as well. Oropharynx is an area of the throat which is located at the back of the mouth. Recent research conducted by a scientific team from the Johns Hopkins University associates the exposure and infection with HPV 16  with a strong risk of developing cancer of the mouth and throat. As such, the HPV infection stands among the leading culprits for oral cancer: tobacco and alcohol. The process by which an infection with HPV 16 leads to oral cancer is slow and silent and it may take some 10 to 20 years.

Avoid HPV Infection and Oral Cancer

Some new vaccines, such as Gardasil and Cervarix, are beneficial but keep in mind they are a form of prevention and not treatment. Neither of them will cure your HPV infection. Both vaccines protect against the HPV cervical and oral cancer. Currently, Cervarix is available only for women, while Gardasil is approved for boys and young men aged 9 to 26 and females aged 13 and 26. To make sure the vaccine ensures effective protection and to minimize the risk of getting an HPV infection, you should limit the number of your sexual partners and have ones with few or no prior partners. Having oral cancer screenings on a regular basis can also help you detect HPV infections early. These may otherwise stay invisible for years. Stop smoking and avoid using alcohol on a regular basis.

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