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Link Between Oral Sex and Oral Cancer

It stands to reason that if the human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cervical cancer, it could cause cancer in other parts of the body exposed to the virus. Researchers tested throat cancer patients for evidence of the virus and found it.

The most direct way of becoming infected with HPV is through unprotected sex; in this case, unprotected oral sex is the problem. A Time article summarizes the findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The men and women study participants1 completed a survey about their sexual history and those with six or more oral sex partners were 32 times more likely to have throat cancer. The other two top risk factors, smoking and alcohol, don’t increase the risk factor by more than three.

The risk of unprotected oral sex is increasing. The number of people in their 30s and 40s with throat cancer has noticeably risen over the past decade, according to a doctor interviewed in the Time article.

This is brand-new research and needs further study, but I have little doubt that the original findings are correct. Although a lot of reaction is focusing on HPV’s effect on men, women are at as much risk as men. Infection is infection and unprotected oral sex is similarly risky whether a man or woman is giving it.

Although there is speculation that the new HPV vaccine could prevent throat cancer (which kills about 3,000 people a year), it has not been tested. Although the HPV vaccine and the throat cancer study patients share one strain of HPV, this is no guarantee. Further study must be done.

Of course, one very reliable way of preventing HPV infection is the use of condoms for oral, vaginal and anal sex. Researchers in this study quickly concluded that infrequent condom use was one of the sexual risk factors.

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1 100 with throat cancer, 200 without