Poor Oral Hygiene Tied to Cancer-Linked Virus
Avoiding HPV is yet another reason to take care of your teeth, gums, experts say
It's a rare cancer, but cases tied to HPV are on the rise in the United States. No one knows why.
It's already known that poor oral hygiene is tied to a heightened risk of oropharyngeal cancer, even when smoking and heavy drinking -- two big risk factors for the cancer -- are taken into account.
But it has not been known whether dental health matters in the risk of oral HPV infection, Markham noted.
This study, however, does not answer that question, according to a specialist in head and neck cancers.
The study is hampered by some limitations, said Dr. Amy Chen, a professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery at Emory University in Atlanta.
The findings come from a large federal health survey that included more than 10,500 Americans. But Markham's team had to exclude two-thirds of them from the analysis because the participants lacked key information -- such as an HPV test result.
Paring down the group like that is problematic because it can bias the results, Chen said.
The "take-away," she said, is that people should be aware of the already-known link between oral health and cancers of the mouth and throat.
Anna Giuliano, of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., agreed that the study leaves questions -- including whether people with poor oral health have a higher risk of a long-lasting HPV infection, which is the real concern.
If unhealthy gums and teeth do raise the odds of oral HPV infection, it's not certain how. But Markham said it's possible that diseased gums offer an "entry portal" for the virus.
Fewer than 12,000 cases of oropharyngeal cancer occur among Americans each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it's thought that HPV causes nearly three-quarters of them. So preventing the infection is key to preventing the cancer.
There are two vaccines available against the most common cancer-linked strains of HPV (Gardasil and Cervarix). Experts advise vaccination for girls, boys and young adults.
Of course, that would not be of help to most of the people in this study, the majority of whom were aged 30 or older, said Dr. Dennis Kraus, director of the Center for Head and Neck Oncology at North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute in Lake Success, N.Y.