A recent study led by researchers from Johns Hopkins investigated whether the transmission of human papillomavirusmay be affected by whether an individual has mouth or throat cancer related to the sexually transmitted disease.
HPV is extremely common in the U.S., and the majority of infections do not cause cancer. Even so, the National Cancer Institute reports that about five percent of all cancer cases throughout the world are caused by this STD, and among these cases, cancers of the mouth and throat have become increasingly common in the last two decades. By 2020, oral cancers caused by the disease are expected to become more prevalent than cervical cancers, according to the NCI.
Although vaccinations exist to prevent several types of HPV-related cancer, neither apply to oral cancer.
Examining oral rinses for HPV
Researchers from several centers - Johns Hopkins, the Oregon Health & Science University, the Ohio State University, the Dana Farber Cancer Center, and Mount Sinai Medical Center - conducted the survey by taking oral rinse samples from two groups of people. The first group consisted of patients who already had oropharyngeal cancer known to be related to HPV.
The second group, on the other hand, consisted of individuals who were the sexual partners of people with such cancers. The oral rinses of both groups were tested for HPV DNA, which would indicate that the individual was orally infected by the virus.
When the sexual partners were first tested, viral DNA was found in the rinses of six of the 94 individuals surveyed. Upon further testing one year later, none of them remained infected, suggesting that the infection cleared up on its own. This is not unusual, as the NCI notes that HPV infections often resolve themselves within a couple of years.
No increased risk of infection
As these results were comparable to the rate of infection seen among the general population, the researchers concluded that the likelihood of contracting the disease was not increased for the sexual partners of people with oral cancer caused by HPV. Individuals with this cancer may still pass the STD along to others, and those newly-infected individuals may still develop oral cancer of their own, but are at no higher risk than people whose partners do not have HPV-related cancer.
Sixty of the sexual partners involved in the study were also visually examined for signs of oral cancer, but none of them were found to have evidence of cancerous cells.