Vaccine May Lower the Risk of Oral Cancers

Posted on 6/14/2017 by Gregory A. Williams
Young man smilingAs your dentist in Tigard, Dr. Greg Williams strives to educate his patients on the interconnected nature of our oral and overall health. A growing amount of research has found compelling links between the health of your teeth and gums and a number of serious medical conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and dementia. Now a recent U.S. study has found that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine may actually help reduce the type of oral infections responsible for throat and mouth cancers by up to 88 percent. Unfortunately, the actual impact that HPV vaccines have on lowering the risk of oral cancers is relatively low currently, as few patients in the U.S. are actually receiving HPV vaccinations, especially males.

This study marks the first time researchers have studied the impact HPV vaccinations have on oral HPV infections.

Preventative Protection Largely Ignored

Researchers from the University of Texas Cancer Center said that despite an increase in HPV related cancers every year in the U.S., especially among men, no clinical trial had previously attempted to evaluate the potential use of the HPV vaccine for the prevention of HPV infections that cause oral cancers. "Given the absence of gold-standard, clinical trial data, we investigated whether HPV vaccine has had an impact on oral HPV infections among young adults in the U.S.," stated researchers involved in the study.

Researchers examined data collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, reviewing the records of over 2,600 young adults between the ages of 18 and 33 during the years of 2011 to 2014. Researchers then compared the data on those individuals to data of those who had received one or more doses of an HPV vaccine. Focusing on the prevalence of HPV11, 6, 18, and 16 – the four strains of the virus covered by HPV vaccines prior to 2016 – researchers collected oral rinse samples from the study participants.

Researchers discovered that the HPV strains were found in significantly fewer people who had received vaccine shots, showing an 88 percent lower risk. At the time the data was collected, approximately 18 percent of young adults in the U.S. reported to receiving one or more HPV vaccine doses prior to the age of 26, with vaccines far more common in women (29 percent) than men (7 percent).

"When we compared the prevalence in vaccinated men to non-vaccinated men, we didn't detect any infections in the vaccinated men. That data suggests that the vaccine may be reducing the prevalence of those infections by as much as 100 percent," stated researchers.

The HPV vaccine was originally approved in 2006 as a means to prevent cervical cancer in women, and later for other cancers, including anal cancer in men. Unfortunately, the negative stigma around the HPV vaccine only being used to prevent a sexually transmitted disease has prevented many young adults from receiving the potentially lifesaving treatment.

About 63 percent of adolescent girls and 50 percent of adolescent boys have started to receive the HPV vaccination series in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, an estimated 3,200 new HPV cased linked to oral cancers are diagnosed in women and roughly 13,200 in men each year.

Understanding Your Risk

As dentistry and medicine moves more toward the science of prevention rather than treatment, studies like this one only help to reinforce that it's better to lower our risk for a disease than try to fight it later on. Each year, over 49,000 Americans receive an oral cancer diagnosis, a number that's certain to rise unless the prevalence of HPV is halted through vaccinations and public education.

Your dentist in Tigard, Dr. Greg Williams, hopes that through increased public awareness his patients will have the knowledge needed to make the best decisions about their health going forward.

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Tigard, OR 97224-2481

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