A new study confirms smokers are at higher
risk of oral HPV infection, which causes throat cancer.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is usually
associated with cervical cancer but it can cause many other types of cancer
including throat cancer from oral infection.
Most common STI
A study published in the British Medical Journal Open confirmed
that smoking tobacco significantly increases the risk of oral HPV infection
and, in turn, throat cancer.
The study, conducted in the United Kingdom
(UK), found 2.2% of the 700 men and women investigated tested positive
for oral HPV.
However, the rate among former smokers
was over 3%. Among those who had never smoked, the rate dropped to
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted
infection (STI) and one in four people are infected in the United States,
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 100 strains
of the virus exist but most people’s immune systems clear the infection
naturally. In some people this infection persists and can cause cancers
including those of the cervix, vagina, penis and throat. Unlike other STIs, HPV
can be transmitted despite condom use because it is frequently carried on areas
not covered by condoms.
According to the researchers, not only are
smokers more likely to be infected but they are also more likely to have
persistent HPV infections, increasing the chances of developing cancer.
Lifestyle risk factors
The risk for infection also increased in
people who had a higher number of sexual partners (more than six).
Dr Vanessa Hearnden from the University of
Sheffield said these results show the need “for individuals to be aware of
lifestyle risk factors such as number of sexual partners and tobacco use”.
Last month the UK government announced that
it would be rolling out HPV vaccination for boys. Up until recently, only girls
had been covered for vaccination as is the case in South Africa.
“Many people associate the HPV virus with
cervical cancer but there is less recognition of the fact that HPV causes
oropharyngeal cancer, and unfortunately, the prevalence of this cancer has
increased dramatically over the past few years,” said Dr Craig Murdoch, also
from the University of Sheffield, in a statement.
In 2014, the South African government
became the first in Africa to roll out the HPV vaccine to girls aged between
nine and 14 but is yet to extend this to boys based on cost. – Health-e News
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