Cancer

Updated 23 March 2016

Men face higher risk of HPV cancers linked to oral sex

Comparing men and women with the same number of sexual partners, a man is much more likely to become infected with oral HPV than a woman, researchers say.

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Men are twice as likely as women to contract cancer of the mouth and throat connected to the human papillomavirus, or HPV, a standout among the most widely recognized sexually transmitted infections, specialists say. 

Cancer on the rise

For men, the danger of HPV-driven cancers of the head and neck increase alongside the quantity of oral sex partners, analysts said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) yearly meeting in the US capital. 

About two out of three of these oral malignancies in the United States and most western countries are brought on by infection with the HPV 16 strain of the virus, and occurrences of tumors are on the rise as of late, said Gypsyamber D'Souza, who teaches epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Middle aged white men have an especially high risk contrasted with different races. 

Read: Oral sex not safe sex

She said her research demonstrates that adolescents are taking part in oral sex at progressively younger ages, contrasted with the past.

"Our research demonstrates that for men, the quantity of oral sex partners – as that number builds, the danger of an oral HPV contamination expands," she told correspondents.

But, with women, the quantity of sexual partners does not seem to raise the risk.

HPV infection quite common

"Comparing men and women with the same number of sexual partners, a man is much more likely to become infected with oral HPV than a woman."

Read: Increase in head and neck cancer linked to oral sex

Moreover, ladies who have had a higher number of vaginal sex partners seem to have a lower risk of oral HPV infection, she said.

The reason may be that when women are first exposed to HPV vaginally, they mount an immune response that prevents them from getting an oral HPV infection, she said.

But men do not seem to have equally robust immune responses.

"Men are not only more likely to be infected with oral HPV infection than women, but our research shows that once you become infected, men are less likely to clear this infection than women, further contributing for the cancer risk."

HPV infection is quite common, and most people clear the virus within a year or two, she said.

Read: Are you at risk of head and neck cancer?

In some cases, however, HPV does not go away and can lead to cellular changes in the mouth and throat, which eventually become cancerous.

Oral sex may raise the risk of head and neck cancer by 22 percent, according to a study published January in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

This type of cancer has risen 225 percent in the last two decades.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges HPV vaccination for all pre-teen boys and girls so they can be protected against the infection before they become sexually active. 

Read more: 

Symptoms of cancer  

Preventing cancer  

Treating cancer 

 

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CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst and Head of Advocacy Magdalene Seguin. For more information, visit cansa.org.za.

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