A new non-invasive test which we now offer at our office, is showing promise in the detection of HPV 16 and 18 infections, and is helping identify individuals who are at increased risk of developing throat or oral cancer.
Background on HPV
HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US and nearly all sexually active men and women will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives.
There are more than 200 known HPV types, and at least 14 types are characterized as high-risk. HPV 16 and18 represent approximately 70% of the high-risk HPV infections.
In the majority of cases, an HPV infection does not cause any visible symptoms. In healthy individuals, about 50% of new HPV infections are cleared naturally by the body within 6 months, and 90% of HPV infections are cleared within 2 years. Low-risk HPV infections can cause warts, but high-risk infections can lead to tumor development in a small percentage of patients.
HPV is primarily transmitted through sexual contact. The best way to prevent HPV infection proactively is through an HPV vaccine – before a person becomes sexually active. The protection gained from the HPV vaccine is type-specific; meaning it does not provide protection of infection from other HPV types besides the types listed for that particular vaccine.
Some individuals cannot seem to get rid of the HPV infection on their own. This leads to persistent HPV infections, which significantly increases that individual’s risk of developing cancer.
Most recent studies show that up to 90% of throat cancer is associated with oral HPV infection and the presence of persistent oral HPV infection increases throat cancer risk by 22 fold.
New Screening Tool
Our office now offers a 30 second non-invasive oral rinse, which is sent to a Salivary Diagnostic Lab to detect oral HPV infection. The turnaround time on the test is approximately 10 business day. The test helps detect HPV 16 and 18, the main types associated with throat or oral cancer.
Regular screenings can help detect persistent oral HPV infections. Through enhanced patient surveillance, precancerous lesions can be detected and treated earlier; ultimately reducing the incidence and severity of oral HPV-associated throat and oral cancer.
A negative test result shows you have a much lower risk of developing cancerous lesions. However, you will still be monitored with regular visual oral cancer screenings at the time of your cleanings. You can also take additional HPV tests in the future to monitor any potential changes in the HPV risk factor.
A positive test for oral HPV would indicate an increased risk for developing HPV associated throat or oral cancer. You would be tested more frequently, to determine if the infection is clearing up and being managed by your immune system; or if it is persistent and more of a health risk. You would be monitored more closely at our office and may also be referred to a Specialist for additional screenings and monitoring.
The test currently costs about $150 at our office. Some insurance companies are covering the service; but the majority has not yet developed a policy to cover the screening test.
Best Strategies Against HPV-Associated Cancer
- The 9-Valent HPV vaccine protects against 9 HPV types, including 7 high-risk HPV types (16, 18, 31, 33, 45,52 & 58) associated with cancer (oral, throat, cervical, among others).
- The vaccine is most effective when administered before individuals are exposed to HPV infection or become sexually active.
- The HPV vaccine is very safe. It was studied in over 74,000 individuals before gaining FDA clearance.
- Over the past 50 years, the incidence of cervical cancer has decreased 74% in the US, largely due to the pap smears and HPV testing, which is a similar type of screening with the oral rinse diagnostics.
Reducing Throat and Oral Cancer Risks
- Avoid smoking (tobacco or e-cigarettes)
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
- Have regular exams by your Dentist and Physician
- Get the HPV vaccine
- Consider periodic salivary diagnostics
- Understand the risks associated with sexual activity