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Oropharyngeal Cancer: The Link to HPV

Oropharyngeal Cancer:  The Link to HPV

Oral cancer is on the rise, and studies have shown that it’s just not due to heavy smoking and drinking anymore. In fact, cases of oropharyngeal cancer have increased due to the prevalence in the human papilloma virus (HPV). Even more surprisingly, those affected by oral cancer are twice as likely to be men than women (NIH, 2017).

HPV is one of the most common and widespread STD’s to date, and most Americans associate HPV with cervical cancer in women. However, there is a strain of HPV, known as HPV-16, which is responsible for more than half of the cases diagnosed for oropharyngeal cancer (NIH, 2017). This strain grows HPV inside a man’s mouth much like it does in a woman’s cervix.

Oral Cancer Statistics and Facts 

  • 70% of oropharyngeal cancers are caused by HPV
  • 49,670 people will contract oral cancer in 2017
  • an estimated 9,700 people will die from it
  • oral cancer forms on the back one-third of the tongue, soft palate, side and back walls of the throat, and tonsils
  • heavy smoking and drinking, and HPV infection increase the risk of contracting oral cancer
  • symptoms of oral cancer include a sore throat and a lump in the neck
  • dentists are strongly encouraged to carefully look for any signs of oral cancer in and around the throat and mouth during regular dental examinations
  • tumors resulting from HPV infection have a better prognosis with a lower probability of recurrence than tumors not related HPV

Raising Awareness 

During the month of April which is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, dentists and medical professionals are encouraged to conduct free oral cancer screenings nationwide, and the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance has designated April 2-9, 2017 as Oral Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week (OHANCAW).


National Institute of Health, NIH (2017). Oropharyngeal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/hp/oropharyngeal-treatment-pdq

American Cancer Society (2017). What Are the Key Statistics About Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancers? Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/oral-cavity-and-oropharyngeal-cancer/about/key-statistics.html


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