Oral sex linked to throat cancer epidemic, warns doctor

A new study suggests people who have multiple oral sexual partners are almost nine times more likely to develop oropharyngeal cancer. Dr Mehanna, from the University of Birmingham, warned the increase in cases could be viewed as an “epidemic”. Writing in The Conversation, Dr Mehanna noted: “Over the past two decades, there has been a rapid increase in throat cancer in the West, to the extent that some have called it an epidemic.

“This has been due to a large rise in a specific type of throat cancer called oropharyngeal cancer.”

Dr Mehanna explained: “For oropharyngeal cancer, the main risk factor is the number of lifetime sexual partners, especially oral sex.

“Those with six or more lifetime oral-sex partners are 8.5 times more likely to develop oropharyngeal cancer than those who do not practice oral sex.”

The uprise in oropharyngeal cancer cases has been associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV).

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In the UK, 80 percent of adults reported practising oral sex at some point in their lives, Dr Mehanna said.

Macmillan Cancer Support outlines the “most common” symptoms of the disease.

Symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer may include:

  • A painless swelling or lump in the neck
  • A sore throat or tongue
  • Earache
  • Difficulty swallowing, or moving your mouth and jaw
  • Changes in your voice
  • Bad breath
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unequal-looking tonsils.

The charity says: “All these symptoms can be caused by other conditions.

“But it is important to have them checked by your doctor. Oropharyngeal cancer can be treated most successfully when it is diagnosed early.”

MacMillan added: “Oropharyngeal cancers linked to HPV often start in the tonsils or the base of the tongue.”

HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer is mostly caused by HPV16, Mount Sinai – a New York hospital network – says.

What is HPV?

There are over 100 different types of the small-sized DNA virus, Mount Sinai points out.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes it “usually takes year after being infected with HPV for cancer to develop”.

How to reduce your risk of HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer

“When used consistently and correctly, condoms and dental dams can lower the chance that HPV is passed from one person to another,” the CDC states.

Alcohol consumption and tobacco “may contribute” to the development of the cancer.

Thus, in order to reduce your risk of oropharyngeal cancer, “don’t smoke or use smokeless tobacco products”.

This also includes avoiding secondhand smoke and limiting the amount of alcohol you drink.

In the UK, those born after September 1, 2006, are offered the HPV vaccine as part of the NHS vaccination programme.

If you are not eligible to have the HPV vaccine for free, you may choose to pay for it.

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