More research needed on progression, transmission of virus, scientists say
Spouses and long-term partners of patients with mouth and throat cancers related to human papilloma virus—commonly known as HPV—appear to have no increased prevalence of oral HPV infections, according to results of a multicenter pilot study led by Johns Hopkins investigators. The study’s results suggest that long-term couples don’t need to change their sexual practices, the scientists said.
“While we can’t guarantee that the partners of patients will not develop oral HPV infections or cancers, we can reassure them that our study found they had no increased prevalence of oral infections, which suggests their risk of HPV-related oral cancer remains low,” said Gypsyamber D’Souza, associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. D’Souza
HPV-related oral cancers are on the rise among white men in the United States, and fear of transmitting the virus can lead to anxiety, divorce, and curtailing of sex and intimacy among couples, D’Souza said. Persistent oral HPV infections can lead to the development of oropharyngeal cancers, located at the base of the tongue, tonsils, pharynx, and soft palate.
For the study, researchers conducted surveys and collected oral rinse samples from 166 male and female patients and 94 spouses and partners at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and three other hospitals.
“The oral HPV prevalence among partners who participated in this study are comparable to rates observed among the general population,” D’Souza said. “We suspect that long-term spouses and partners have been exposed to HPV, like most of us, and appear to have cleared the virus.”
More research is needed to determine the timeline of progression for HPV-related oral cancers and how HPV is transmitted and suppressed by the immune system, D’Souza said.