Oral sex dramatically increases the risk of throat cancer, a new study has found (file photo)
Oral sex dramatically increases the risk of throat cancer, a new study has found.
It is believed oral sex may be the main way human papillomavirus (HPV), more usually associated with cervical cancer, ends up in the mouth.
The group of viruses affect the skin and moist membranes which line the body, including the anus, cervix and mouth and throat.
HPV-16 is a well-known cause of ‘oropharyngeal’ tumours which affect the middle part of the throat including the soft palate, the base of the tongue and the tonsils.
The research, carried out by Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, suggested that people carrying the virus in their mouth were an alarming 22 times more likely to develop a potentially lethal tumour.
People traditionally view throat cancer as a disease that affects smokers and heavy drinkers in later life but over recent years, as cases have been rising, its been linked with the common HPV.
Spread by skin-to-skin contact, not just by sex, HPV affects almost everyone at some stage in their life.
In most of us, our immune system fights it off and it does not do any harm.
But on rare occasions, the virus takes hold, leading to a chain of events that ends in cancer of the cervix, penis, anus, vagina or mouth.
Around fifteen strains can cause cervical cancer, and HPV-16 is the most common.
Hollywood actor Michael Douglas, the star of Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction, has claimed his throat cancer which almost claimed his life had been caused by performing oral sex.
He beat the odds by recovering from a tumour categorised as stage 4, which often is terminal.
But the study, published in JAMA Oncology, is the first to show conclusively HPV-16’s presence in the mouth leads to the development of oropharyngeal cancer, the type that affected Douglas.
It is also responsible for the majority of cervical cancers. Detection of HPV in the mouth has also been found to be related to sexual behaviour.
The finding was based on almost 97,000 people who provided mouthwash samples and were cancer free at the beginning of the project.
They were followed for an average of four years, during which time a total of 132 cases of head and neck cancer were identified.
They were compared with 396 healthy subjects who acted as controls, three for each case, with mouthwashes samples analysed for the presence of several types of oral HPVs in both groups.
This showed people with HPV-16 in their mouthwash were 22 times more likely to develop oropharyngeal cancer than were those with no detectable trace of the virus HPV-16 in their samples.
Hollywood actor Michael Douglas (left with wife Catherine Zeta Jones), the star of Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction, has claimed his throat cancer which almost claimed his life had been caused by performing oral sex
In addition, the researchers found for the first time that the presence of other types of oral HPVs, known as beta and gamma, which are usually detected in the skin was also associated with the development of head and neck cancers.
This indicated a broader role for HPVs in causing these cancers than has been recognised to date.
Dr Ilir Agalliu, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, said: “This study shows using easily collected oral mouthwash samples may help in predicting people’s risk for developing head and neck cancers.”
Oral tumours have been on the increase for about thirty years. It is one of the fastest rising cancers in the UK, now affecting around 5,000 people each year.
One of the largest studies of its kind found people who had more than six oral sex partners, or more than 26 vaginal sex partners, in their lifetime had an increased risk of oral cancer.
HPV IS A GROUP OF VIRUSES AFFECTING CERVIX, ANUS MOUTH AND THROAT
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body.
Examples of this include the:
- mouth and throat
There are more than 100 types of HPV. Around 30 types of HPV infection can affect the genital area.
Genital HPV infections are common and highly contagious. They are spread during sexual intercourse and skin-to-skin contact of the genital areas.
Infection with some types of genital HPV can cause:
- genital warts – which is the second most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in England
- abnormal tissue growth and other changes to cells within your cervix – which can sometimes lead to cervical cancer
Girls aged 12-13 are offered a vaccination against HPV to help protect them against types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. Women aged 25-64 are offered cervical screening to check for abnormal cells in the cervix.
Other types of HPV infection can cause minor problems, such as common skin warts and verrucas.
Source: NHS Choices