News you might want to use: In early October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine for use people up to the age of 45 who haven’t previously had the vaccine. Before this announcement, the officially approved upper age limit was 26.
Perhaps you’re wondering why you’re hearing this news from your dentist? It’s because there is a strong link between certain strains of HPV and oral cancers. According to the American Dental Association low-risk strains of HPV can cause mouth or throat warts, but high-risk strains are associated with head and neck cancers that affect the mouth, throat, tonsils and back of the tongue. HPV is super common (every year about 14 million Americans become infected) and most of the time it goes away by itself. Sometimes a sustained infection can lead to cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 50,000 new cases of oral and oropharyngeal cancers this year, of which 63 – 80% percent can be attributable to HPV. A 2017 study suggests:
“Caccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV) may sharply reduce oral HPV infections that are a major risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer [throat cancer]. The study of more than 2,600 young adults in the United States found that the prevalence of oral infection with four HPV types, including two high-risk, or cancer-causing, types, was 88% lower in those who reported receiving at least one dose of an HPV vaccine than in those who said they were not vaccinated.”
That said, the HPV vaccine was developed to prevent cervical and other cancers of the reproductive system by protecting against high-risk types of HPV. There is overlap between the strains that can cause cervical cancer and those that can cause oropharyngeal cancers, so it may also prevent oropharyngeal cancers.
As your dentist, we care not only about your teeth, but your overall oral health and wellness. The American Dental Association recently adopted an official position encouraging dentists to support the use and administration of the HPV vaccine. We don’t offer the vaccine, and we can’t tell you if it’s right for you, but if article has caught your attention, give your primary care provider a call to discuss your next steps.
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