Oral HPV Risk No Higher in Partners of Oral Cancer Patients

HPV prevalence in spouses and partners is almost same as general population

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) HPV is perhaps most notorious for its link to cervical cancer, but it can also contribute to some kinds of oral cancer. A new study explored the spread of these conditions among partners.

This new study focused on patients with human papillomavirus-positive oropharyngeal cancer (HPV-OPC) and their long-term romantic partners.

HPV-OPC includes certain cancers of the back of the throat, including cancer of the base of the tongue and the tonsils.

The study found that most partners did not show signs of oral HPV infection, suggesting that oral transmission of these cancer-causing infections are rare.

"Talk to your doctor about tests for sexually transmitted infections."

According to the authors of this new study, which was led by Gypsyamber D’Souza, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, there is still a lot to be learned about how these oral HPV infections are spread and how they develop into cancer.

"Many patients and their partners have anxiety about HPV transmission and partners’ cancer risk," explained the study's authors. "Therefore, we evaluated oral HPV prevalence among patients with HPV-OPC and their partners to better understand these risks."

To do so, Dr. D'Souza and team identified 164 patients with HPV-OPC and 93 of their long-term partners at four different health centers across the US between October 2009 and May 2013.

Oral examinations of the partners were performed, and oral rinse samples and information about cancer history and risk factors were explored in both groups.

The oral rinse samples were examined for 36 types of HPV DNA, including HPV16 — a type commonly associated with HPV-OPC. Instances of HPV in the samples were compared against results from the general public, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2009-2010.

Most of the HPV-OPC patients were men (90 percent), did not smoke (51 percent) and reported performing oral sex (97 percent). The average age of the patients was 56 years old. The partners were mostly women (94 percent) and non-smokers (57 percent), and most reported performing oral sex (98 percent). The average age of the partners was 53 years old.

Dr. D'Souza and team found that most of the HPV-OPC patients (61 percent) had oncogenic, or tumor-causing, oral HPV DNA in their oral rinse samples, and 54 percent had HPV16 DNA.

When looking at the partners, rates of oral oncogenic HPV infections were comparable to rates seen in the general public. In the study, 1.1 percent of partners had oncogenic oral HPV DNA in their oral rinse samples, and none had HPV16 DNA, compared with the general public rates of 1.2 percent with oncogenic oral HPV DNA and 1.3 percent with HPV16 DNA.

Among all partners, no precancers or cancers were uncovered during the oral examinations. However, nine partners reported a previous history of cervical disease, and five patients reported having a previous partner with invasive cervical cancer.

More research is needed to further explore cancer history in terms of HPV-OPC and to further explore the findings in this study among a wider audience.

"This study demonstrates that most partners of patients with HPV-OPC do not have any detectable oral HPV DNA, suggesting either that oral-oral transmission (ie, kissing) is rare and/or that most partners effectively clear any active infections to which they are exposed," wrote Dr. D'Souza and team.

This study was published online April 28 by the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Several study authors reported ties, including employment, consultant and stock ownership connections, to a number of organizations, including Provista Diagnostics, GlaxoSmithKline and MerckResearch.

Review Date: 
April 30, 2014
Last Updated:
May 1, 2014