Oral HPV Overview

Oral HPV (Oropharyngeal Human Papillomavirus) is a type of HPV infection predominately affecting the mouth. People can contract the virus from kissing or oral sexual activity with an infected person.

Infected people don’t usually know they have oral HPV because there are little to no symptoms experienced. So, they unknowingly spread the virus to many different people and infect them too. If a person doesn’t discover their oral HPV infection soon, it could develop into oropharyngeal cancer.

HPV is contracted more than any other sexually transmitted infection in North America. It is amongst the nearly 40 strains of HPV that affect the genitals, mouth, and throat. Fortunately, the immune system is typically strong enough to eliminate an HPV infection before a person experiences symptoms. But for nearly 4% of women and 10% of men, oral HPV or “HPV in the mouth” causes them to experience symptoms.

Oral HPV FAQs 

Is There a Difference Between Oral HPV and HPV?

They are pretty much the same thing. The primary difference is that oral HPV is an HPV subtype, but they are both associated with the human papillomavirus. HPV has several subtypes, with oral HPV being just one example of an HPV subtype.

How Many Different HPV Types Exist?

Doctors have discovered nearly 200 HPV strains, 40 of which infect the mucus membranes and genitals. However, only 9 of the 40 oral-based HPV strains have the potential to cause cancer. The HPV-16 strain has the most potential to turn into oropharyngeal cancer.

How Rare is Oral HPV? 

Medical research studies have shown that about 7% of the U.S. population between 14 and 69 years of age have contracted oral HPV. In addition, many of the people who contracted oral HPV did so within the last 30 years. A higher percentage of them were men.

What are the Symptoms of Oral HPV?

Oral HPV doesn’t usually cause someone to experience symptoms. But in the rare cases where someone experiences symptoms, they typically consist of red sores on the lips, throat, or mouth. The most troubling part of oral HPV is unknowingly transmitting it to another person because the symptoms are not apparent.

Does Getting Oral HPV Mean That I Have Cancer?

No, it doesn’t mean that because oral HPV is not the same as cancer. However, there is a potential for the HPV-16 strain to turn into oropharyngeal cancer in some infected people. And with only around 1% of Americans having contracted HPV-16, roughly 66% of these cases turn into oropharyngeal cancer cases. The good news is that most other oral HPV strains don’t develop into cancer.

What Are the Symptoms of HPV-Based Oropharyngeal Cancer?

One of the first noticeable symptoms is trouble swallowing normally. Additional symptoms will follow in the coming weeks and months. They include coughing up blood, drastic weight loss, jaw swelling, jaw pain, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, dysphonia, a strange lump on the cheek or neck, and earaches.

See your doctor if you experience even one of these symptoms. They don’t always mean you have cancer, but they should motivate you to seek further testing and examinations to discover why you have them.

How is Oral HPV Transmitted?

Kissing and oral sex are the most common ways oral HPV is transmitted from one person to another. Since HPV exists within the mucus and saliva of the infected person’s mouth, exchanging mouth fluids with them will transmit the virus. In fact, the virus can spread if the mucus or saliva simply touches an open cut on the mouth.

How Long Does It Take for Oral HPV Symptoms to Develop After Infection?

Most people don’t develop any symptoms. But for those who do, it takes about 3 to 6 months after infection for warts and sores to form.

Will Oral HPV Disappear Eventually?

In most cases, an infected person’s immune system will eradicate oral HPV from the body within two years. No treatment is needed for this to happen. Sadly, some unfortunate people will have oral HPV for several years or even decades. It is always riskier when oral HPV stays in the body too long because it could develop into more severe health problems like oropharyngeal cancer.

Are Kissing and Oral Sex the Only Ways to Get Oral HPV? 

Kissing and oral sex are the two most common ways to get oral HPV. However, you can also get it from putting your mouth on something that an infected person had put their mouth on before, such as a cigarette, utensil, drinking cup, or bottle. Therefore, try not to share cigarettes, drinks, or utensils with anyone.

How Does a Doctor Diagnose Oral HPV?

Your doctor won’t be able to detect oral HPV until you experience symptoms, such as strange lesions on your mouth or throat. These lesions will be discovered when you see your doctor for routine examinations. In this situation, your doctor will likely want to perform a biopsy by taking a sample of the lesion or abnormal tissue. After that, they’ll send it to a laboratory to see if it is cancerous or potentially cancerous.

If the laboratory results show you have HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer, your immune system alone won’t be strong enough to eradicate it. As a result, your doctor will recommend you undergo a professional oral HPV treatment like surgery, cryotherapy, or an interferon alfa-wB injection. 

Will the HPV Vaccine Protect from Oral HPV?

Yes. The HPV vaccine has been proven effective in reducing the risk of oral HPV infection. It can even protect you against the HPV strains known for causing oropharyngeal cancer, anal cancer, vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer, penile cancer, and cervical cancer.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says people who are 11 or 12 years old should start getting their HPV vaccinations on a routine basis. That is their recommendation for keeping the public safe from HPV. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices believes every person 26 and under should be vaccinated for HPV.

See your doctor if you have questions or concerns about the HPV vaccine and its ability to protect you from HPV. If you are over 26 and never got your HPV vaccine when you were younger, your doctor can advise you on the steps to take to protect yourself.

Some older adults between 27 and 45 years of age are still eligible to get the HPV vaccine. But it would be best if you talked to your doctor first to ensure it is okay for you to get it.  It’s also a good idea to build your immune system with a healthy diet, get plenty of rest, exercise and take AHCC supplements regularly.

What Will Happen If I Get Oral HPV?

Many people don’t experience symptoms after getting infected with oral HPV. However, warts could develop on your inner mouth or outer lips if you are one of the unfortunate few who experience symptoms from the virus. In this case, your doctor can remove them for you.

Oral HPV usually disappears without medical treatment because a person’s immune system is typically strong enough to eliminate the virus. But don’t leave it to chance and assume your immune system will do the job for you.

Instead, make regular follow-up appointments with your doctor so they can monitor the virus carefully. Then, if the virus causes oropharyngeal cancer to form, your doctor can administer the necessary treatment before the cancerous cells grow and worsen your condition.

When is the Best Time to Consult My Doctor About HPV?

See your doctor if you have questions or concerns about HPV or the HPV vaccine. If you don’t have any symptoms, schedule an appointment to see the doctor on whatever date they have an available time slot. But if you see HPV warts, sores, or other abnormal growths on your mouth or lips, request to see the doctor immediately.