In JAMA this week, Ohio State University's Maura Gillison and her collaborators examine the prevalence of oral HPV infection in the US from 2009 to 2010. HPV infection is the leading cause of a certain kind of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma, the rate of which is increasing among men in the US, the authors write. For this study, the team evaluated oral swab samples from 5,579 men and women aged 14 to 69, and found a prevalence of oral HPV infection of 6.9 percent. Peak prevalence was in individuals aged 30 to 34 and 60 to 64, the researchers add, and men had a significantly higher prevalence than women. "Infection was less common among those without vs those with a history of any type of sexual contact … and increased with number of sexual partners and cigarettes smoked per day," the authors write.
In a related editorial in JAMA this week, Drexel University College of Medicine's Hans Schlecht says the results of the Gillison et al. study are "remarkable." The results of this study could help doctors estimate the prevalence of oral HPV infection based on a population's sexual experience, smoking status, and immune suppression, Schlecht says. "Future research will need to identify the natural history of HPV-related oropharyngeal dysplastic lesions and evaluate potential screening methods to detect oropharyngeal dysplasia prior to invasion," he adds. "Successful screening measures such as a Papanicolaou test, HPV polymerase chain reaction testing, or both may be daunting to achieve, but there is meaningful hope that prevention efforts will ameliorate the effects of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer." In addition, although there is evidence that HPV vaccines can prevent infection at anogenital sites, there needs to be more research done on the vaccines' ability to prevent oral infection, Schlecht says.