Link Between Oral Sex, Mouth Cancer Discovered

Researchers from the Institute of Head and Neck Studies and Education at England’s University Hospital Coventry have discovered a possible link between oral sex and an increase in mouth cancer.

The study, prepared by lead author Hisham Mehanna and published in the British Medical Journal, has discovered a link between the increase of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) and the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV).

OSCC, a form of mouth cancer in which a tumor forms in the back of the mouth where it connects to the throat, has experienced a 50-percent increase over the past 20 years, and transmission of HPV through oral sex could be to blame.

“Sexual transmission of HPV — primarily through orogenital intercourse — might be the reason for the increase in incidence of HPV related oropharyngeal carcinoma,” writes Mehanna. “The emergence of new data such as this may increase motivation amongst national vaccination authorities worldwide to re-double efforts to vaccinate children before they become sexually active.”

HPV has also been linked to cervical cancer, the second most common form of cancer amongst women, and has been pinpointed as a cause in approximately 80-percent of those cases. Girls as young as 12 are currently being vaccinated against HPV using either GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix or Merck & Co.’s Gardasil, and Mehanna suggests that boys could also possibly benefit from the vaccine.

Nell Barrie, science information officer for Cancer Research UK, isn’t so sure.

“We know that HPV can cause oropharyngeal cancer, as well as several other types of cancer including cervical cancer,” Barrie told Telegraph Medical Editor Rebecca Smith on Friday. “But although HPV infection is common, the virus causes cancer only in a minority of people.”

“More research will be needed to determine if patients with HPV related head and neck cancer could benefit from different treatment, and to understand if any changes to health services are needed,” she added. “It will also be interesting to see if the HPV vaccine could help to reduce rates of oropharyngeal cancer.”

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