HPV Oral Infection Rates Declining in England

Dentistry Today


Rates of high-risk human papillomavirus (HR-HPV) oral infection in England are lower than expected compared to previous studies, according to the University of Sheffield, though smoking and sexual behavior are still key risk factors as oropharyngeal cancer rates continue to increase worldwide due to HR-HPV infections. 

The study examined 700 men and women in Sheffield, looking for HR-HPV infection and asking subjects lifestyle questions related to their sexual history and tobacco use. A total of 2.2% were infected with oral HR-HPV, with 0.7% positive for HPV16 or HPV18. Previous studies found 3.7% of individuals positive for oral HR-HPV.

Former smokers were significantly more likely to be HR-HPV positive than those who had never smoked. Also, participants with a greater number of sexual or oral sexual partners were more likely to be HR-HPV positive.

“Previous studies have been US-focused on in smaller UK studies in London or Scotland. This is the first study in the north of England and found lower rates of oral high-risk human papillomavirus infection,” said Vanessa Hearnden, PhD, of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield. 

“We fully support the newly announced HPV vaccination program for boys, which will reduce the risk of HPV related cancers including throat cancer in men and will also provide further prevention of cervical cancers through herd immunity,” said Hearnden.

“However, we found the majority of individuals testing positive for high-risk strains of HPV were actually positive for strains other than those covered by the current vaccine (HPV16 and HPV18),” Hearnden said.

“This shows the need to consider newer vaccines which protect against more HPV strains in the future and for individuals to be aware of the lifestyle risk factors such as number of sexual partners and tobacco use,” said Hearnden.

“Many people associate the HPV virus with cervical cancer, but there is less recognition of the fact that HPV causes oropharyngeal cancer, and unfortunately, the prevalence of this cancer has increased dramatically in the past few years,” said Craig Murdoch, PhD, of the University of Sheffield’s School of Clinical Dentistry.

“The Sheffield Head and Neck Oncology Research Team are conducting research into HPV-related oral cancer in order to find better ways to treat this disease and improve quality of life,” said Murdoch.

“This study confirms the importance of lifestyle risk factors in prevention of the disease and sheds new light on the rates of oral HR-HPV infection and England,” said Dr. Kate Allen, executive director of science and public affairs for World Cancer Research Fund International.

The study, “Oral Human Papillomavirus Infection in England and Associated Risk Factors: A Case-Control Study,” was published by BMJ Open

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