JAN 12, 2021 7:09 AM PST

The frightening association between oral sex and HPV-related cancers

New research published recently in the online edition of CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, reports on an association between oral sex and oropharynx cancer, a cancer of the mouth and throat that can be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The study speaks to the risk associated with oropharynx cancer and oral sex intensity (defined as the number of partners in a certain period of time).

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and while in most cases it will go away on its own, in some cases it can cause cancers such as cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, throat, or tonsils. Previous investigations have found that HPV–related oropharyngeal cancer is uniquely associated with the number of oral sex partners a person has. This study expands on that information.

Led by Virginia Drake, MD, of Johns Hopkins University, the research team gathered behavioral data from 163 individuals with and 345 without HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer. They look at risk factors such as sexual debut behaviors, exposure intensity, and relationship dynamics to understand how the timing and intensity of oral sex performance are associated with HPV-related cancer.

"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."

More and more iotherwise healthy young people are being diagnosed with HPV-related cancers. Photo: Pixabay

Their findings showed a 4.3-times greater likelihood of having HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer associated with people who have had more than 10 prior oral sex partners. Additionally, they found that having oral sex at a younger age (potentially before vaccination occurs) as well as having a greater number of partners in a shorter time period were both associated with higher likelihoods of having HPV-related oropharynx cancer.

Sources: CANCER, Eureka Alert

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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