HPV Test for the Mouth

Is HPV a cause or a coincidental finding with oral cancer and how can you test for HPV in the mouth?

We find papers and opinions supporting both positions on this controversial subject. It is a widely held belief that HPV is a risk factor at some level with oral cancer; however, there is not clear scientific evidence of the exact connection between the HPV virus and oral cancer. However, most opinions conclude that HPV can cause dysplasia.

So is there an HPV test for saliva that will diagnose the presence of the HPV virus in the mouth?

Yes. It is a DNA -PCR type test which is also used to collaborate abnormal Pap smear results as well as the Capture II tests. The real question is if the HPV test is accurate and is it a true screening exam for HPV’s we see in oral cancer?

Although the DNA-PCR tests in general have proved valuable in medicine, we are waiting and hopeful to see independent results. A proven tool such as this screening test can be helpful to determine which patients are at higher risk while their HPV is active.

HPV Activity or Dormancy in the HPV Test

Now there is the subject of HPV activity or dormancy. We know the viruses are very prevalent in our society and they have periods of activity when they can be detected. It is a commonly held belief the virus can be present but dormant, HPV can also be eliminated. There is an immune component that can effect the virus activity. So timing is an issue, begging the question when do you test? You can be positive and then be negative. How you manage that information with the patient is still being debated.

So is there an HPV test for the mouth? Yes.

Accurate? Most likely, not independently verified as of yet.

Helpful? Depending upon how it is used.

Accurate predictor of susceptibility to oral cancer? Very hard to quantify at this point.

If accurate, and HPV detected in identified susceptible individuals what will you do with this information? Do a more through oral cancer examination, closer recalls, tonsillectomies or use light source screening devices.  All can be viable options.


Our goal as an oral cancer awareness organization is to present unbiased information. In tandem, we desire to provide awareness and only offer conclusive evidence by disseminating information from independent and qualified sources. That is our goal.

Like most it is information that you as the doctor use in your best judgment because you are the best to decide what is best for your patients.


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