The words sex and dentist don’t usually go together in the same sentence, but there is an increasing amount of evidence demonstrating a link between Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and oral cancer. While the primary risks associated with mouth and throat cancer remain drinking alcohol, smoking and chewing tobacco, there is concern that an increasing number of cancer cases are caused by an HPV infection in the mouth.
Around 1 in 4 mouth cancers and 1 in 3 throat cancers are HPV-related, but in younger patients, almost all of those diagnosed with oral cancer contracted it from HPV.
HPV is a viral infection that is passed between people through skin-to-skin contact. There are more than 100 varieties of HPV, and more than 40 of them are passed through sexual contact and can affect your genitals, mouth or throat. It’s important to remember that you don’t need to have penetrative sex to contract it. You can get HPV from:
Any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area
Vaginal, anal or oral sex
Sharing sex toys
Without the right precautions, HPV is very easy to catch. In fact, it’s so common that the majority of people will get some type of HPV throughout their life.
HPV has no symptoms, so you may not even know if you have it. For women, HPV testing is part of cervical screening, but there is no blood test for HPV. If you’re worried you may have HPV, make sure you consult your GP for medical advice.
If you think you may have contracted HPV through the mouth, watch out for these signs and symptoms of oral cancer:
A white or red patch inside of your mouth or on your tongue
Ulcers that do not heal within 3 weeks. Ulcers are painful sores that appear in the mouth. Those caused by mouth cancer tend to appear on or under the tongue, but you can get them in other areas of your mouth
A swelling in your mouth that lasts for more than 3 weeks. HPV can cause growths in your mouth. It’s not painful, but once discovered, it needs to be treated and removed so it doesn’t lead to oral cancer
Pain when swallowing
A feeling as though something is stuck in your throat – otherwise known as 'globus pharyngeus’. This is the feeling when you’re unable to remove a lump in your throat, or like something is stuck there but there is no actual obstruction
Visit your dentist at least once a year and your hygienist at least twice a year for routine dental check-ups, cleanings and oral screenings. To book a dental hygiene appointment, please contact me.
For more information, visit the NHS website.