ORAL HPV TEST: Would you discuss sex life with your dentist? - KMSP-TV

ORAL HPV TEST: Would you discuss sex life with your dentist?

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Most people wouldn't expect a dentist to ask about sex, but some believe they should and are now recommending oral HPV tests for some patients.

The new test, made by a Minnesota company, could literally save lives -- and the recent revelation from Michael Douglas that the actor believes human papilloma virus, HPV, caused his throat cancer has many people wondering if they could be at risk.

It's estimated that 30 million Americans have an oral HPV infection, and most don't even know it. Until now, there wasn't even a good test for it.

Along with the aah's and x-rays, dentists do check for oral cancers -- but a few are asking some new questions during the screening process.

"There've been a lot of people uncomfortable talking about oral sex and things like that with patients," said Dr. Tim Isaacson.

Isaacson is not squeamish. In fact, if a patient has had oral sex with more than 20 partners, he will recommend an oral HPV test.

"Shoot [the saline solution] in your mouth but don't swallow it," he directed a patient. "Now, you just need to spit it into the test tube."

The sample is sent then sent to Access Genetics in Eden Prairie, where a molecular lab can identify HPV down to its specific genetic markers.

"There's been a belief among teens and adults that oral sex is safe sex, and it's not," said George Hoedeman, of Access Genetics.

The test has been on the market for three years, but only about 3,000 dentists across the country are using it -- but Michael Douglas' revelation may change that. In fact, Access Genetics told FOX 9 News they are already getting a lot more inquiries.

"There's been a little bit of neglect on the part of the medical community," said Dr. Ronald McGlennen.

Right now, the test is the only one on the market that can detect an oral HPV infection before it becomes cancerous. Lab results show 10 percent of all men and 4 percent of all women test positive, but that doesn't mean all those cases will involve cancer.

"This is about the infection initially, and not a diagnosis of cancer," said McGlennen.

In fact, only 3 in 100,000 people with an oral HPV infection will develop oral cancer. In most cases, the body's immune system can fight off the virus -- but the test provides an early warning system that allows dentists and doctors to monitor the disease. If they can get past that first question, that is.

"Most people will tell you how much money they make before they tell you their sexual history," Isaacson said.

The tests cost $150, and only a few health insurers are picking up the tab at this point. Health Partners will pay 20 percent of the cost.

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