Report: Increase In Certain Head And Neck Cancers Linked To Oral Sex

Experts focus on the link between oral sex and certain cancers
Experts focus on the link between oral sex and certain cancers

Here's a scary one:

USA Today reports that certain head and neck cancers are on the rise due to oral sex.

The reason is that human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a trigger for these types of cancer, and it can be transmitted though sex, particularly oral sex, which has become more popular in the last decade or so.

"It seems like a pretty good link that more sexual activity, particularly oral sex, is associated with increased HPV infection," said Dr. Greg Hartig, professor of otolaryngology — head and neck surgery at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.

According to Dr. William Lydiatt, professor and chief of head and neck surgical oncology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, the overall incidence of head and neck cancers is going down, largely because fewer people are smoking (tobacco and drinking are the major traditional risk factors).

But the incidence of cancers of the tonsil and base of the tongue have been going up over the past decades, he said. And those are the ones that are more likely to test positive for HPV.

The piece cites a 2007 report in The New England Journal of Medicine (which you may find scary or not, depending on your history) that examined the link between multiple sex partners and certain cancers:

In the study, having six or more oral sex partners over a lifetime was associated with a 3.4 times higher risk for oropharyngeal cancer — cancers of the base of the tongue, back of the throat or tonsils. Having 26 or more vaginal-sex partners tripled the risk. And the association increased as the number of partners — in either category — increased.

This program aired on February 3, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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