January 26, 2009


By Evelyn Bollert

While few people with HPV get oral cancers, the number is likely to keep rising, says Dr. Maura Gillison, of John Hopkins, if only because HPV is so common, hundred of millions of people are infected worldwide, with there's no cure and just one test and only to detect HPV in a women's cervix. Only a biopsy can tell whether an oral cancer is linked to HPV, but a test to spot high-risk oral infection in men and women and a vaccine for men are both in the works. What you need to know:

> Most people with HPV infections don't have any symptoms. At least half of sexually active men and women may become infected in their lifetime. About 23 percent of women age 14 to 65 have high-risk HPV, including 35 percent of 14 to 19 year old girls.

> Gardasil protect against up to 70 percent of the HPV types that cause cervical cancer, but it's unknown if the vaccine protects against oral infection in men or women.

> While most infections clear up on their own without patient ever knowing they were exposed, the consequences can still be severe. For instance, one type of HPV raises the risk of oral cancer by 3200 percent.

> The virus spreads through any form of sexual activity, and condoms can't fully protect against it. Having more than five oral sex partners boosts the risk of HPV linked oral cancer by a staggering 340 percent.

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