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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
UNITED STATES: Oral Cancer Virus Affects 7 Percent of Americans
Lindsey Tanner
January 31, 2012
Associated Press (01.26.12) - Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The overall prevalence of oral human papillomavirus was 6.9 percent among American men and women ages 14-69, according to an analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-10. Although more commonly linked with cervical cancer, HPV also is increasingly recognized as a major cause of oral cancers. Smoking and heavy drinking are other key causes of oral cancers.

People in the survey provided a 30-second oral rinse and gargle with mouthwash, which was tested for HPV. Only about 1 percent of the 5,579 people tested had HPV-16, the type most robustly linked to oral cancer and also a cause of cervical cancer. The study's overall oral HPV prevalence of 6.9 percent would translate to about 16 million Americans infected, with about 2 million having HPV-16.

The study "provides us some reassurance" that most people with HPV will not get oral cancer, said Dr. Maura Gillison, lead author and researcher with Ohio State University. Fewer than 15,000 Americans get HPV-linked oral cancer each year. Further study is needed to determine whether HPV vaccines can protect against oral HPV, said Gillison, who has consulted for HPV vaccine makers Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline. OSU, Merck, and the National Cancer Institute helped pay for the study.

Oral HPV was more common in men than women (10 percent vs. 4 percent), smokers and people who had many sexual partners. People ages 55-59 were most at risk. Sexual activity, including oral sex, was a strong risk factor.

The lower prevalence for oral HPV compared with genital HPV suggests the mouth might somehow be more resistant to infection, Dr. Hans Schlecht, infectious-disease specialist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, wrote in an accompanying editorial. The study could further research on how some infections lead to cancer and on detecting and treating HPV- related oral lesions before they turn to cancer, he said.

The report, "Prevalence of Oral HPV Infection in the United States, 2009-2010," and the editorial, "Hazard of Intimacy," were published online ahead of the print edition of Journal of the American Medical Association (2012;doi:10.1001/jama.2012.101 and doi:10.1001/jama.2012.117, respectively).