The human papillomavirus is commonly known to be associated with cervical problems found on Pap smear exams or as genital warts, depending on the strain of virus that was acquired. Since HPV is spread through contact (skin-to-skin instead of body fluid exchange), condoms are not 100 percent protective.
Research has shown that oral HPV infections (as opposed to cervical) are now on the rise -- specifically oropharyngeal cancers.
There are hundreds of strains of HPV. However the most concerning for either the vaginal area or throat are HPV 16, followed by HPV 18. These particular strains do not cause warts, instead they are the most oncogenic. This means that their potential to cause cancer is much greater than the other strains.
HPV 16 is one of the most aggressive types for either the vagina or throat and can create cellular changes very quickly. The non-cancer-causing throat and tongue strains are typically HPV 6 and 11.
These can cause lesions that look like warts or small finger-like projections. While these are not oncogenic, it is typically recommended that they are removed from their location in the mouth.
This means it could be as important to have regular throat checks for HPV as it is for cervical testing. Typical symptoms that would warrant further check-ups include persistent sore throats for unknown reasons, painful swallowing, feeling as if something is in the throat (such as a lump) making swallowing difficult, voice changes, and chronic cough for unknown reasons.
Risk factors for HPV-related throat cancer include a higher number of sexual partners because of the HPV exposure, history of oral sex, women with a history of HPV on Pap smear or genital warts, and men who have a history of genital warts.
Unfortunately for those with cervical HPV there are very few symptoms. Many women are completely surprised to find out that they have an abnormal Pap. As cervical HPV progresses, women may experience bleeding due to ulceration, or pain with intercourse due to cervical tenderness.
If you are having any of those symptoms or are concerned about your HPV exposure, talk with your health care provider about getting tested.
1) Oral HPV Infection Common in HPV16-positive HNSCC. Web. 4 April, 2012.
2) HPV Causing Slow Epidemic of Oral Cancer. Web. 4 April, 2012.
3) Age, sexual behavior and human papillomavirus infection in oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers. Web. 4 April, 2012.
4) Case–Control Study of Human Papillomavirus and Oropharyngeal Cancer. Web. 4 April, 2012.
Reviewed April 9, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jessica Obert