Human papillomavirus (HPV) has become so widespread in the United States that heath experts say almost everyone will be infected with it at some point in their lives. It’s also been implicated in a variety of different cancers: A recent study conducted by researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine confirms that people with HPV-16 in their mouths are 22 percent more likely to develop a type of head and neck cancer compared to people without it.

Einstein researchers based their analysis on nearly 97,000 people who took part in two nationwide studies. Patients who were considered cancer-free at the beginning of the study were asked to provide mouthwash samples for testing. Researchers identified a total of 132 cases of head and neck cancer after an average of four years of follow-up. They also included a comparison group of 396 healthy subjects.

Participants who showed signs of HPV-16 were 22 times more likely to be diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer compared to participants who showed no signs of HPV. The research team also discovered the presence of other types of oral HPV: Beta- and gamma-HPV. These types of HPV tend to be detected in the skin, but were associated with the development of head and neck cancers.

The Einstein researchers also reported that easy-to-collect mouthwash samples could help predict a person’s risk for head and neck cancer development. A similar study conducted by Johns Hopkins researchers gathered blood and saliva samples from 93 oropharyngeal cancer patients. They found that by combining blood and saliva samples they were able to predict recurrences of oral cancer with an efficiency rate of 70 percent.

Another study out of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that blood tests can predict an HPV patient’s risk for throat and oral cancers 10 years before normal detection techniques. The most common symptoms for throat cancer caused by HPV, also known as oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma, include a neck mass and persistently sore throat.

Source: Burk R, Agalliu I, et al. Associations of Oral Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Human Papillomavirus Types With Risk of Incident Head and Neck Cancer. JAMA Oncology. 2016.