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Here’s What You Should Know About HPV and Oral Cancer

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month so there’s no better time to shed light on a critical oral health issue: the connection between Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and oral cancer in the throat. Surprised that HPV can cause oral cancer? It’s not one of the first connections people often make when they think of HPV. That’s why the team at Naperville Dental Specialists wants to talk about it here. We care not only about your dental health by providing everything you need from general to cosmetic dentistry , but also about how your oral health affects your overall well-being.

The Connection Between HPV and Oral Cancer

Oral cancer can affect all adults and includes cancers of the mouth and the back of the throat. While tobacco and alcohol use are often what we initially associate with oral cancers, the HPV virus, particularly HPV16, also causes oropharyngeal cancers (back of the throat, base of the tongue, and tonsils). In fact, research has indicated that 70% of oropharyngeal cancers are caused by HPV 16. So if someone were to ask you, “Can HPV cause throat cancer?” the answer is a definite yes.

HPV-Related Throat Cancer Symptoms

If you haven’t received the HPV vaccination and you end up contracting it, it can be years between contracting HPV and developing HPV-related throat cancer. You see, your immune system does try to fight off the HPV infection but if it isn’t successful after a year or two, it can stay in your body and cause cancer. In other words, you don’t know when HPV throat cancer symptoms could appear. And what does HPV do to your throat? HPV can change the cells in your throat, infecting the squamous cells that line the inner surface of your oropharynx with cancer.

Now, we should take a moment to talk about the difference between what’s called “oral cavity cancers” and “throat/oropharyngeal cancers”. Oral cavity cancer happens on the lips or mouth (but not in the throat). HPV is not connected to oral cavity cancers like it is with throat cancer. Instead, oral cavity cancer is caused by tobacco and alcohol use, and sometimes the UV exposure from prolonged use of tanning beds.

So back to throat cancer, the big question is, what symptoms should you pay attention to that might indicate throat cancer from HPV? Throat cancer symptoms can include:

  • A sore throat doesn’t get better
  • A lump in your throat, back of your mouth, or neck
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Trouble opening your mouth fully or moving your tongue
  • Ear pain
  • Changes in your voice
  • Coughing up blood.

HPV Stage 1 Early Throat Cancer: Catch it Early for Successful Treatment

As with many types of cancer, recognizing HPV-related throat cancer in its early stage is important. Early stage throat cancer — Stages 1, 2, or sometimes 3 — is typically treatable. So be aware of early throat cancer symptoms and see your family doctor or your Naperville dentist right away if you experiencing any of them. But also keep in mind that HPV Stage 1 early throat cancer sometimes doesn’t have symptoms, which is why regular throat and oral cancers screenings are crucial.

The Importance of Throat and Oral Cancer Screening

Regular oral cancer screenings can detect cancerous and precancerous conditions in your throat, even before symptoms develop. The first step in an oral cancer screening? A physical examination of your mouth and throat by your doctor or a screening by your dentist using VELscope®. If findings are of concern, you might then see an ENT for further examination and diagnosis.

What is VELscope?

VELscope is a radiation-free, non-invasive and painless examination technology used by dentists to screen for oral cancer in the throat. This handheld device allows us to see any abnormal tissue that we couldn’t see with the naked eye, whether you have throat cancer symptoms or not. How does this technology work for throat and oral cancer screening? The VELscope tool emits specific wavelengths of blue spectrum light into your mouth to stimulate natural tissue fluorescence which can be viewed directly through the VELscope. Abnormal tissue will look different than healthy tissue.

Schedule Your VelScope Appointment to Screen for HPV-Related Throat Cancer

Now that you’re more informed about the connection between HPV and oral cancer in the throat, screening should be on your mind. As part of our cutting-edge approach to dental care, Naperville Dental Specialists offers state-of-the-art VelScope oral cancer screenings. You can easily include it onto your next check-up and cleaning appointment at our Naperville office.

Be proactive about your health and schedule your VELscope appointment with our experienced, award-winning team.

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