The study – which was the first nationwide estimate of how many people in the U.S. have oral human papilloma virus – found that 7 percent of Americans aged 14 to 69 are infected. That's 16 million people. HPV is increasingly recognized as a major cause of oral cancers affecting the back of the tongue and tonsil area. Smoking and heavy drinking are also key causes.
Absolutely terrifying. However, there is a little bit of good news:
While mouth cancers are on the rise – probably from oral sex, HealthPop reported – most people with oral HPV will never develop cancer. And most d
on't have the kind most strongly linked to cancer. Also, tests for oral HPV are costly and mainly used for research purposes.
There are many types of HPV, but one strain in particular known as HPV-16 is most strongly linked with oral cancer and also is a common cause of cervical cancer. That strain was found in about 1 percent of people studied, translating to about 2 million Americans.
The study “provides us some reassurance” that most people with oral HPV will not get oral cancer, said Dr. Maura Gillison, the lead author and a researcher at Ohio State University. Millions may have oral HPV, but fewer than 15,000 Americans get HPV-linked oral cancer each year.
Dr. Ezra Cohen, a head and neck cancer specialist at the University of Chicago, said the study confirms similarities in risk factors for HPV oral infections and oral cancer. For example, oral HPV was more common in men than women – 10 percent versus almost 4 percent; in smokers; and in people who had many sexual partners. People aged 55 to 59 were most at risk.