Could Oral Sex Cause Cancer

by Garreth Myers

What do you think is the main cause of oral cancer in men? Most of us would imagine the answer to be smoking, recreational drugs or heavy drinking. However, according to recent studies conducted by the Ohio State University oral sex is one of the main causes of throat, neck and head cancer in men and cervical cancer in women.

For years, people have engaged in oral sex, believing it to be one of the safest ways of giving each other pleasure. However, according to a report published by the Journal of Clinical Oncology in October 2011, there is a correlation between oral sex and cancer. The main culprit, causing the cancer is the Human Papillomavirus, also commonly referred to, as HPV. There are over a 100 strains of this virus that can infect people. The strain that causes oral cancer in people is HPV 16. People who test positive for this strain are 14 times more likely to get oral cancer, as compared to others.

Human Papillomavirus Infection is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the US. Data shows that at least 50% of all sexually active men and women have been exposed to this virus at some point or the other. This virus affects the genitals in most cases, but can also spread to the mouth and throat through personal contact. HPV infection is not a serious one and most people get rid of it without suffering from any serious complications or side effects. This is because our bodies usually fight off infections, without us being aware of it.

In some cases, the virus could lead to the development of serious medical conditions, which could also include cancer. After exposure, the Human Papillomavirus could lie dormant in a person for years, before developing into cancer. The treatment of cancer usually involves a combination of surgery, medication, radiation and chemotherapy.

This does not mean that people shouldn’t engage in safe oral sex. There is no definite way to prevent HPV exposure and infection. People could get infected inspite of practicing safe sex, or in rare cases, simply by kissing. However, the risks of getting infected are much higher in those who have had more than 6 sexual partners during their lifetime. The fact remains that only a small percentage of men and women, who have been infected with HPV, have actually developed cancer.

HPV vaccination offers protection against some of the high risk types of HPV, but not against all. It is believed to protect against HPV types that could cause oral, vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers among other conditions. Vaccination is recommended by the WHO and CDC, but there are also critics who question the efficacy of vaccination.


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  2. Schwartz SM, Daling JR, Doody DR, Wipf GC, Carter JJ, Madeleine MM, et al. Oral cancer risk in relation to sexual history and evidence of human papillomavirus infection. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2003;21:1626-36
  3. D’souza G, Kreimer AR, Viscidi R, Pawlita M, Fakhry C, Koch WM, et al. Case control study of human papillomavirus and oropharyngeal cancer. N Engl J Med. 2007;356:1944-56

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