early signs of HPV throat cancer
Although most people infected with HPV remain asymptomatic, it may cause serious side effects, such as the following.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that causes growths, called warts, on the skin and mucus membranes. It can affect various parts of the body including the mouth and throat (oropharynx).

Most of the people infected with HPV remain asymptomatic, but in some people, it may cause serious side effects, such as:

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. HPV commonly causes genital warts and cervical cancer in women. It can cause infections in the back of the mouth, the base of the tongue and throat, and may cause cancer of the head and neck.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 6.2 million new cases of HPV occur in the United States each year. The great majority of Americans are infected with HPV early in their sexual age.

There are numerous varieties of HPV, among which a few kinds are classified as high-risk, while 200 other kinds may generate benign (noncancerous) warts or may not cause any symptoms at all.

How does HPV spread?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is transmitted by sexual contact, most commonly during vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse.

If a person has a lot of sex partners or a sex partner who has a lot of sex partners, they are more likely to develop HPV.

Many people have no symptoms and are completely ignorant that they have HPV. Though they are completely oblivious to the condition, they usually eliminate it through normal immunological reactions.

The virus may be inactive for weeks, months, or even years after infection in certain individuals. The infection can be transmitted even when no symptoms are present.

How is HPV diagnosed?

There is no test available to detect early indications of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in the throat.

Some malignant or precancerous oropharyngeal HPV lesions may be spotted during a dentist or doctor's screening or examination, but the majority are discovered via testing in people who already have signs or symptoms.

Throat examination

  • Special devices with mirrors may be used by doctors to evaluate difficult-to-see parts of the throat, larynx (voice box), and base of the tongue.
  • Flexible laryngoscopes and pharyngoscopes that penetrate farther into the throat allow the doctor to examine structures deep in the throat.

Biopsy

  • A biopsy of spots that might indicate cancer may be recommended by the doctor.
  • A biopsy is a tiny sample of cells collected using a thin, hollow needle or forceps.
  • The cells are then examined under a microscope for indications of malignancy.
  • HPV DNA may be detected in biopsy samples from throat malignancies.
  • The presence of HPV DNA indicates cancer that is more receptive to therapy than an HPV-negative tumor.

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2 risk factors of HPV

  1. Multiple sexual partners
    • The more sexual partners a person has, the more probable they are to have genital human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
    • When having oral sex, this also applies to oral infections.
    • Having sex with a partner who has already had several sex partners raises the risk.
  2. Weak immune system
    • People with compromised immune systems are more vulnerable to HPV infections.
    • People with human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) have a damaged immune system.
    • People who are on immunosuppressive medicines following organ transplant have weakened immunity.

What is the treatment for HPV?

There is no specific treatment available for human papillomavirus (HPV).

  • HPV usually fades away on its own within two years and does not create any health issues.
  • Only when HPV is present in the body for a long period, generally decades, it has the potential to cause these oral malignancies.
  • The doctor may recommend medications or surgery depending on where the lesions are present and their severity.

A very small percentage of people will have an HPV infection that progresses to cancer. 

  • Usually, HPV disappears in the majority of instances and the reason is unknown. 
  • However, in a very small population, HPV infection may persist.
  • HPV has the potential to increase the risk of cancer in infected people but a vast majority of people do not acquire cancer.

If oropharyngeal cancer has developed, the treatment varies with people depending on the symptoms and stages of the malignancy.

HPV vaccines

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines are noted to be very effective against strains HPV 16 and 18, which cause cervical cancers. Earlier HPV vaccines were administered to females aged 11 to 12 years.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the vaccine Gardasil 9 for both males and females ages 9 to 45 years to protect them from cancers caused by HPV.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that boys and girls aged 11 to 12 years should receive two doses of HPV vaccination at least six months apart.
  • Younger adolescents ages 9 and 10 years and teenagers ages 13 and 14 can also be vaccinated in two doses.
  • According to research, the two-dose regimen is helpful for children younger than 15 years.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/5/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Human Papillomavirus (HPV). https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv-vaccine-young-women.htm

Providence. HPV of The Mouth: What it Means and How to Treat It. https://www.providence.org/news/uf/599424474