HPV and The Growing Cause of Cancer

A recent article from the Harvard Medical School found that most people sexually exposed to HPV never develop symptoms or health problems, and most HPV infections go away by themselves within two years. But the infection can persist and cause long-term problems. These include cervical cancer in women, penis cancer in men, and in both sexes some cancers of anus and oropharyngeal cancer (cancer in the back of throat, including base of the tongue and tonsils).

In the past, oropharylgeal cancers were mostly linked to smoking or alcohol abuse. Today, oropharyngeal cancers related to smoking and alcohol are on the decline while those caused by HPV are rising dramatically. Some experts predict that HPV-caused mouth and throat cancers will become more common that cervical cancer by 2020.


Sexual contact, including oral sex and deep kissing, can transmit HPV from one person to another. The likelihood of contacting oral HPV is directly associated with the number of sexual partners a person has had.

There are a few ways the prevent HPV-related oral cancer, depending on your age.

Pre-Teens, teens, and young adults of both sexes can get vaccinated against HPV, The Centers for Disease Control recommends that young women get vaccinated against the virus to prevent cervical cancer. The CDC also recommends the vaccination for young men for two reasons: to help prevent its transmission to women, and to help prevent some of the 7,000 HPV-related cancers that occur in men each year. Two available vaccines provide excellent protection against sexually transmitted HPV.

Vaccination won't help older people (those beyond their early 20's) or the millions of people already infected with HPV. The use of condoms can prevent the spread of the virus.

If you've been infected with the virus, diagnosing an HPV-related oral cancer as early as possible greatly improves the chance of cure. See your doctor if you have one or more of these symptoms for more than two to three weeks:

  • A sore in your mouth or on your tongue that doesn't heal
  • Presistant pain with swallowing or sore throat
  • A lump in your neck that presists.