March 4 is an HPV Awerness Day.
HPV is HUMAN PAPILLOMA VIRUS.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and a great opportunity to talk about HPV, Human Papilloma Virus.
HPV is a versatile virus. It affects skin and mucosal membranes (lining of the inside the mouth, organs and genital areas). It has been associated with cancers.
What is HPV?
It is a highly contagious virus that affects humans. It spreads via infected saliva or mucus, through a cut or an open sore. It can be spread through touching, rubbing, oral sex & all other sexual contact.
“Approximately 75% of sexually active Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime, with the highest rates of HPV infection occurring in young people aged 15 to 24.“
Statistically speaking, if you have had more than 6 oral sex partners, you probably have had it. There are over 200 strains. Some HPV are low risk (you wouldn’t even notice you have it) and some are high risk (can cause cancer). In most cases, HPV does go away on its own without any health problems.
About 40 strains cause genital tract infections, with low risk HPV 6 & 11 causing genital warts (cluster of bumps looking like a cauliflower, in the genital area).
One of the high risk HPVs are HPV 16 and 18 which can cause cancer.
It is hard to predict who will develop cancer depending on a person’s systemic health and immune system. Individuals with weak immune system may have a harder time fighting HPV off. They might develop HPV related health problems. In healthy individuals, it may remove itself within 1-2 years.
Here are some more interesting facts:
- In women, it can cause cancer of cervix, vulva, vagina
- In men, although rare, it can cause cancer of penis
- Both men and wome are at risk of cancer of anus, mouth and throat.
- Both men and women can get head and neck cancer due to HPV 16
HPV 16 gets around from the mouth to genital organs.
It is crucial to emphasize that a carrier of HPV might not even know they have it. It does not affect all people the same way. HPV spreads through oral sex and mouth to mouth contact.
PAINLESS! It takes a form of cauliflower or cobblestone mass. It can be on the tongue, soft palate or roof of the mouth, throat and lips.
It can also cause Oral or Mouth Cancer.
ORAL CANCERS ARE ON THE RISE! 60-70% of “back of the throat cancers” may be linked to HPV. Prevention is the key!
Why such a rise in HPV related cancers? There are many factor affecting this. Our lifestyles and habits have changed tremendously in the last 20 years. New generations have different sexual practices than the kids of the 70s and 80s had.
GET YOURSELVES SCREENED AT EVERY DENTAL HYGIENE APPOINTMENT!
Oral Cancer Screen
Screening is the most important tool in early diagnosis. It will help you to get to know your mouth. Check your mouth on regular basis to know what should and shouldn’t be there.
If you find something, see if it appears bilaterally (if it’s on the left side of the tongue, check if the right side has it too). You are looking for anything red, white or both. Again, pain may not be a factor so make sure to actually LOOK in the mouth. Let’s say you found something, observe it for 10-14 days. If it still there, have it checked out.
At Floss Bosses, We have an OPEN DOOR POLICY. At short notice, if our patients have an unresolved lesion (longer than 14 days), they can come in to have it checked. If required, we refer to an oral pathologist.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Protect yourself and be safe. STIs are on the rise. Get yourself checked regularly.
Besides the obvious barrier devices that one should use (eg condoms) during intercourse, a person can protects oneself against HPV with a vaccine.
There are 2 HPV vaccines available in Canada: Gardasil and Cervarix.
A few years back, I attended Western Regional Dental Experience. Beside it being extremely fun (great weather, great food, great company), it was very educational. One of the questions asked in my Oral Cancer course was if dental hygienists or dentists would be comfortable with providing a vaccine against HPV. I thought what a brilliant idea. I see patients on regular basis. I screen them at every appointment. How convenient would this be for the patient?!?