Making a difference: Talking with patients about the risks of human papilloma virus and oral cancer prevention

Q4 Word of Mouth newsletter 2023

Educating your patients about the dangers and ways to prevent oral cancer can help ensure the future health of your patients at any age. 

Oral cavity, oropharynx and HPV

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), cancers of the oral cavity and oropharynx account for 2.9% of cancers diagnosed and 1.6% of cancer deaths. 

Older males were historically at higher risk, as were tobacco and alcohol users and those exposed to high levels of ultra-violet light. However, more recently, oral and oropharyngeal cancers are increasingly seen in patients who are younger and female. This is thought to be related to the human papilloma virus (HPV).

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Some types can cause health problems, including genital warts and cancers. HPV-positive head and neck cancers typically develop in the throat, at the back of the tongue and near or in the folds of the tonsils, which makes them difficult to detect.

Prevention methods

You can educate your patients on the following prevention methods:

  • Regular dental check-ups that include an examination of the entire head and neck through palpation and visual examination
  • Adjunctive testing such as light contrast screening and brush biopsy can supplement visual examination

Suspected lesions should be referred for a surgical biopsy.


For more information, visit the American Cancer Society’s website.