HPV, cancer, and warts: what’s the deal?
I have heard that HPV can be contracted through kissing. Is this true?
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) can cause genital warts and cervical cancer, and should be a concern for all. Although there is a vaccine, only few people have been immunized. Girls (and ideally also boys) should be vaccinated at the onset of puberty – before they become sexually active.
There are over 150 types of HPV. Most are harmless and clear their own, never causing any problems. HPV infections happen through genital or skin contact. It’s important to note that condoms can only offer limited protection as they only cover the penis. Viruses on the pelvic area can still be transmitted.
Now back to your concern: it is true there is oral HPV. This could lead to cancer at the back of the throat. It’s known as oropharyngeal cancer. Just like the genital HP-virus, only few throat HPV infections lead to cancer. I am not asking anyone to disregard oral HPV, but to take precautions.
Studies have shown different results regarding oral HPV transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some studied conclude that Oral copulation (both mouth-to-genital and mouth-to-anus contact) and French kissing are responsible for transmission. Other studies show that oral sex doesn’t contribute.
So, we aren’t quite sure if you can get infected from oral sex and kissing. Scientist believe long-term exposure to HPV is more likely to lead to infection. Also, the more people you have sex with, the higher the risk.
How common is HPV?
Oral HPV is not as common as genital HPV. Genital HPV is the most common STD. One study suggests that over 45 per cent of all males in America have HPV. Only about seven per cent of all Americans have oral HPV.
Men are three times more likely to get oral HPV than women. And gay and bisexual men have more cases of penile, anal, and oropharyngeal cancer, compared to women and heterosexual males.
But remember: most HPV doesn’t result in cancer.
Other HPV infections
Other than oral HPV, genital HPV can lead to cervical cancer and genital warts. Cervical cancer is almost exclusively caused by the HP-virus. It’s still one of the leading causes of death from cancer in the world. When diagnosed early, it’s easy to treat. Thus all women over 21 years should get a Pap smear every three years.
Genital warts are extremely difficult to treat and even with surgery they keep recurring, thus one might seek treatment for a very long time.
How to avoid exposure to HPV
Vaccination is the best path to prevention. If you are under 21, please consult your doctor on vaccination. Before the scientific community conclusively finds out how oral HP-virus is actually transmitted, I think one should avoid casual oral sex and French kissing. Use condoms and dental dam to reduce the risk; although they don’t offer complete protection, some protection is better than none.
Do you have questions about HPV? Ask us on our forum, on Facebook or in the comments below.