Chin J Dent Res 19 (2016), No. 1 31. Mar. 2016
The human papilloma virus (HPV) is a common virus that infects epithelium in 10% of the world's population. While most sexually active people become infected, the majority with a healthy natural immunity control their infection. When the infection becomes persistent in cervical mucosa for instance, it is associated with nearly all cervical cancers. Fortunately cervical cancer screening is both sensitive and specific and when accessed has led to significant reductions of this disease. Despite this, cervical cancer still remains one of the leading causes of death from cancer. Oropharyngeal mucosa is becoming persistently infected with HPV in an increasing number of people leading to a potential epidemic of oropharyngeal carcinoma. While only 10% of new oropharyngeal infections persist, those in elderly men who smoke are more likely to do so. Some centres report more than 70% of oropharyngeal cancers are associated with HPV infection, which is different to cancers caused by alcohol and tobacco. Other centres report only a 20% association. Education against high-risk sexual behaviour has been met with limited success. Screening for oropharyngeal HPV infection has been disappointing with a pickup rate of only 40%. Some hope lies in detecting viral DNA in both the saliva and plasma. A HPV vaccine has been available since 2006 but is not yet routinely given to both sexes in many countries. Its effect on the incidence of HPV-positive oropharyngeal carcinomas is currently unknown. Vigilance by dental and medical colleagues in the meantime is essential.
Keywords: cervical carcinoma, human papilloma virus, oropharyngeal carcinoma, screening, vaccination