However, the current finding comes on the heels of a report published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology last October that showed a dramatic two-decade rise in the incidence of oral cancers attributed to HPV infection.
To better understand that connection, Gillison's team sifted through data on nearly 5,600 men and women collected between 2009 and 2011 by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
All NHANES participants had been examined in person, during which all were tested for HPV.
The researchers found an overall oral HPV infection rate of 6.9 percent, with HPV-16 being the most common type.
Oral HPV incidence varied with age, however, with peak rates occurring among those between the ages of 30 and 34 (at 7.3 percent) as well as among men and women between 60 and 64 (11.4 percent).
Overall, oral HPV infection hit the 10 percent mark among men. Among women it was just shy of 4 percent.
While those with a history of smoking, heavy drinking, and/or marijuana use appeared to face a higher risk for infection, sexual behavior also plays a key role in upping a person's risk.
For example, while those who had never had sex faced less than a 1 percent risk for oral HPV infection, prevalence hit 7.5 percent among those who were sexually active. And the greater the number of sexual partners, the higher the risk.
"[But] our findings are reassuring in one important sense," noted Gillison. "Although we found that infection is common, the cancer itself is rare, which tells us that the majority of people who have oral HPV infection do not get cancer."
Dr. Janice Dutcher, an oncologist at the Continuum Cancer Centers of St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, said the results ring true.
"I think that this is real," she said. "
All rights reserved