new study has revealed that men who perform oral sex on their partners
have a high risk of contracting a rare form of mouth or throat cancer.
who have had more than five sexual partners are at even greater risk of
developing the cancer triggered by the human papilloma virus (HPV) –
which is the main cause of cervical cancer.
reassure that only 0.7 percent of men – seven in every 1,000 – will ever
develop HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer in their lifetimes.
risk was much lower among women, those who did not smoke, and those who
had less than five oral sex partners in their lifetimes.
An estimated eight out of ten people will be infected with the HPV virus at some point in their lives.
There are hundreds of different types of HPV and while most are harmless around 12 can cause cancer.
HPV 16 or 18 triggers most cervical cancer while HPV16 most throat cancer.
is transmitted to the mouth and throat mostly by performing oral sex
and appears to cause about 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers. These
cancers appear at the back of the throat, base of the tongue, or
Associate Professor Dr. Amber D’Souza at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore said:
these reasons, it would be useful to be able to identify healthy people
who are most at risk of developing oropharyngeal cancer in order to
inform potential screening strategies, if effective screening tests
could be developed.
“Most people perform oral sex in their lives,
and we found that oral infection with cancer-causing HPV was rare among
women regardless of how many oral sex partners they had.
men who did not smoke, cancer-causing oral HPV was rare among everyone
who had less than five oral sex partners, although the chances of having
oral HPV infection did increase with number of oral sexual partners,
and with smoking.”
The study published in the journal Annals of Oncology, analysed
behavior and medical records of 13,089 people aged 20 to 69 taking part
in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) who
had been tested for oral HPV infection.
It used the numbers of oropharyngeal cancer cases and deaths to predict the risk of cancer from oral HPV infection.
infections with the dozen HPV types known to cause oropharyngeal cancer
especially HPV 16 were present at low prevalence in every defined group
in the study.
For example, women ages 20 to 69 had a frequency of
infection of just over 1 percent, compared to 6 percent for men ages 20
to 69. Men ages 50 to 59 were most likely to have an infection at 8.1
percent of any age group.
Oral sex was clearly associated with a
higher prevalence of infection, although the highest infection
prevalence was seen only among men.
Women with 10 or more lifetime
oral sex partners had a relatively low, 3.0 percent prevalence of
infection, whereas for men with 10 or more lifetime oral sex partners
the figure was 14.4 percent.
of infection for those reporting zero or one-lifetime oral sex partner
was consistently low, between 0 and 2.4 percent.
Smoking also was associated with higher oral HPV prevalence.
was 14.9 percent among men who smoked and reported five or more
lifetime oral sex partners, compared to less than half that – 7.3
percent for men who reported five or more lifetime oral sex partners but
did not smoke.
Co-author associate professor Dr. Carole Fakhry at
the Johns Hopkins Department of Otolaryngology said: “Currently there
are no tests that could be used for screening people for oropharyngeal
“It is a rare cancer and for most healthy people the harms
of screening for it would outweigh the benefits because of the problem
of false positive test results and consequent anxiety.
research shows that identifying those who have oral HPV infection does
not predict their future risk of cancer well, and so screening based on
detecting cancer-causing oral HPV infection would be challenging.
“However, we are carrying out further research of oral HPV infection in young healthy men to explore this further.
research is being done on different biological markers and it is
possible some of them could be used for oropharyngeal cancer screening
in the future in some people; for example, they might be useful in men
but not in women given their lower cancer risk.
suggest people who have antibodies against cancer-causing types of HPV
have an increased risk of HPV-related cancer, but these antibodies are
it is not yet clear whether they will be useful for screening.
Presently, these tests are not commercially available, and are still in
research labs only.”