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Oral Cancer

Can HPV be Transferred Through Oral Contact?

07/14/2008

Question:

Four years ago I tested positive for high risk HPV. I had vaginal sex, and also engaged in unprotected oral sex with the person who gave me HPV (the only person I`ve ever had sexual contact with). Last year I had a normal Pap test and I tested negative for HPV. So, it looked like I had cleared the virus. I am still worried that there might have been oral transmission, and I don`t know if a negative HPV test with cells taken from my cervix means that I don`t have HPV in my mouth. And, recently I kissed someone and I`m now worried that I may have transmitted HPV to him that way. No doctor yet has been able to answer my questions about oral HPV. I would be grateful for any information you can give me. Thank you.

Answer:

If you have tested positive in the past for cervical high-risk HPV, a more detailed follow-up exam/procedure called colposcopy (the determination for whether this is recommended is usually made by a gynecologist who would also carry out the procedure) is the typical next step to see if there are any areas of concern that may require further testing and/or treatment, and also make appropriate follow-up recommendations, as well as discuss need for safe-sex practices in your situation.

If you or your partner have had genital HPV infection, then oral transmission is a possibility. It is hoped that someday a routine reliable test will become available for the mouth/throat. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any routine practical tests that are yet available for oral HPV infection, and visual exam of the mouth and throat, especially for lesions that might be caused by high-risk subtypes is not reliable as infected cells may not cause a visible lesion in the mouth or throat.

The only way that I am aware of to test for HPV in the mouth is to carry out a biopsy, which is impractical to do for the entire mouth/throat, and is typically only done if a lesion is seen. If you are evaluated by an oral surgeon or ear, nose, throat physician, they can carry out an exam and determine if any procedures such as biopsy are recommended.

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Response by:

Amit  Agrawal, MD Amit Agrawal, MD
Associate Professor of Otolaryngology
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University