Oral HPV infections are a major cause of oral cancer, a type of the disease that's been increasing over the past 30 years.
Researchers now know that far more men than women have these largely sexually transmitted infections.
"Ask your doctor about tests for oral HPV infection."
Oral HPV infection causes cancers of the mouth and pharynx - the back of the throat.
Having an oral HPV infection results in a 50-fold increased risk of developing this type of cancer known as HPV-positive oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (OSCC).
Maura L. Gillison, M.D., Ph.D., of the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in Columbus, and colleagues looked at the prevalence of oral HPV infection in this country.
The study involved 5,579 men and women, ages 14-69. They were each given an oral rinse, and their DNA was studied from the sample cells collected.
Here's what the researchers uncovered:
- Overall prevalence of oral HPV infection was 6.9 percent.
- High-risk and cancer-causing HPV16 was detected most often.
- The infection was seen in more men than women - 10.1 percent vs. 3.6 percent.
- The infection was seen at higher rates in various age groups.
- Among people 30 to 34 years, the prevalence was 7.3 percent.
- Prevalence was even higher for 60 to 64 year-olds - 11.4 percent.
- HPV infections were seen more often in smokers, heavy alcohol users and in people who were former and current marijuana users.
- Oral HPV was more prevalent in people who had ever had sex, compared to those who had not - 7.5 percent vs. 0.9 percent.
- Prevalence increased with the number of lifetime or recent sexual partners engaging in both oral and vaginal sex.
- Casual, nonsexual contact was not considered to be a risk factor for oral HPV.
According to the researchers, these findings provide evidence that oral HPV infection is primarily sexually transmitted.
It's unknown whether or not HPV vaccines used to protect against cervical cancer are effective protection against oral HPV infections.
The authors report, "An analysis of U.S. cancer registry data recently projected that the number of HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancers diagnosed each year will surpass that of invasive cervical cancers by the year 2020."
They conclude that clinical trials testing HPV vaccination for men are warranted, based on this data.
This study was released online January 26, 2012 in JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association). It was also being presented at the Multidisciplinary Head and Neck Cancer Symposium.
Funding from the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, Merck, John and Nina Cassils, and the Intramural Research Program of the National Cancer Institute supported this research.
Dr. Gillison is the principal investigator of the unrestricted grant from Merck in support of this study and has been a consultant to Merck and GlaxoSmithKline.