Study Finds 1 in 9 US Men Have Oral HPV

A recent study has found that 1 in 9 men living in the United States have oral HPV.

*Updated on 10/30/2017 at 2:11 PM EST

Past research has found that men have a high prevalence of HPV—one study found that about half of the men living in the United States are possibly infected with the virus—but new research coming in from researchers at the University of Florida (UF) has extrapolated out the information a step further.

The statistic that is displayed in headlines everywhere? About 1 in 9 men in the United States are infected with oral HPV.

HPV is an incredibly common virus; in fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that about 1 in 4 individuals in the United States are currently infected. There are over 150 types of the virus and some types can cause cancer. In fact, according to Time, around 30,700 US men and women develop HPV-related cancer each year.

"The two most common HPV-related cancers are oropharyngeal cancer among men and cervical cancer among women. Anal cancer (another HPV-related cancer) is most common among HIV-infected individuals, men who have sex with men, and women with a history of previous gynecological precancers or cancers," senior author Ashish A. Deshmukh, PhD, MPH, assistant professor at UF’s College of Public Health and Health Professions said in a recent email interview with Contagion®. "Primary HPV vaccination (prophylaxis) prevents occurrence of precancerous lesions and genital warts, thus preventing cancer."

The new study by the researchers at UF and published in Annals of Internal Medicine, focused on determining the prevalence of oral HPV infection, “as well as the concordance of oral and genital HPV infection, among US men and women,” by looking at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2011 to 2014. According to Time, as there is no “federally-approved test” to diagnosis oral HPV, a dental hygienist collected oral rinse samples from study participants and sent them out to a laboratory to be tested.

The study revealed that men seem to have higher rates of HPV infection compared with their female counterparts—almost 11 million men had an oral infection of the virus versus only about 3.2 million women. Furthermore, oral HPV 16—the type of HPV that causes 60% of all oropharyngeal cancers—was 6 times more common in men compared with women.

“One suspects that the HPV persists longer (doesn’t clear easily) among men, and that might be causing increased prevalence,” senior author Ashish A. Deshmukh, PhD, MPH, assistant professor at UF’s College of Public Health and Health Professions told CNN via email correspondence. “It is also possible that men acquire oral HPV more readily than women.” He admits, however, that more research is needed to pinpoint the exact reason behind this finding.

According to the study, men who reported having many “lifetime oral sexual partners,” men who reported having sex with men (MSM), and men who had concurrent genital HPV infection had the highest rates of oral HPV. In fact, oral HPV prevalence in those with concurrent genital HPV infection “was fourfold greater than among those without it.”

Furthermore, this study was “the first to show that oral HPV infection prevalence was higher among black men compared to white men (3% greater risk), those men who smoked more than 20 cigarettes daily compared to never smokers (10% greater risk), current marijuana users (6% greater risk), and men who have had more than 16 lifetime sexual partners (almost 20% greater risk),” Dr. Deshmukh wrote to CNN. Dr. Deshmukh told Contagion® that although it's too early to say, some of these behaviors "could be modifiable so as to help decrease the risk of HPV."

"Prevalence of both genital HPV and oral HPV is high among men, yet, the uptake rate in many states in the US are low and we are slow in terms of improving uptake, especially among our boys," Dr. Deshmukh told Contagion®.

Although there are methods available to screen for cervical cancer, there are not ways to detect oropharyngeal pre-cancer, according to Dr. Deshmukh. Thus, the authors concluded that future research should focus on making improvements when it comes to preventing against OPSCC, as well as strengthening screening and early detection procedures to fight back against cancer in this high-risk population.

"Education efforts and raising awareness among the community is imperative to improve uptake so that we can combat six (HPV-related) preventable cancers," Dr. Deshmukh told Contagion®.