Oral Sex May Affect Risk of Throat Cancer

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Oral Sex May Affect Risk of Throat Cancer

People who began having oral sex at a young age and those having more than 10 oral sex partners in a shorter time period at risk of having mouth and throat cancer

People who began having oral sex at a young age and those having more than 10 oral sex partners in a shorter time period are associated with a greater likelihood of having human papillomavirus (HPV) related cancer of the mouth and throat. 

In addition to the timing and intensity of oral sex, people who had older sexual partners when they were young, and those with partners who had extramarital sex were more likely to have HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer. This cancer affects the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils.

Moreover, the risk of mouth and throat cancer was nearly tripled among people who had had more than five oral-sex partners in a decade since becoming sexually active, the research showed.

The new study conducted by Virginia Drake, MD, of Johns Hopkins University, and her colleagues, published in CANCER, the journal of the American Cancer Society.

Previous studies have already shown that performing oral sex is a strong risk factor for mouth and throat cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world. The Centers for Disease Control says it’s so common that nearly all sexually active people will contract the virus at some point.

“No one should take this to mean, ‘don’t have oral sex,’” said Dr. H. Hunter Handsfield, a professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Washington Center for AIDS and STD, in Seattle.

“No study has been able to answer is: If I take a young person and advise her to avoid oral sex, am I lowering her risk of throat cancer?” Handsfield told usnews.  

To examine how oral sex may affect the risk of mouth and throat cancer the researchers asked 163 patients with HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer and 345 without it to complete a behavioral survey.

“Our study builds on previous research to demonstrate that it is not only the number of oral sexual partners but also other factors not previously appreciated that contribute to the risk of exposure to HPV orally and subsequent HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer,” said Dr. Drake.

“As the incidence of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer continues to rise in the United States, our study offers a contemporary evaluation of risk factors for this disease. We have uncovered additional nuances of how and why some people may develop this cancer, which may help identify those at greater risk.”


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