It May Feel Good, But It Could Cause Head and Neck Cancer

It May Feel Good, But It Could Cause Head and Neck Cancer

Oral sex may feel good, but researchers are discovering that the act, when tied with smoking, may lead to a higher risk of a form of head and neck cancer. 
This form of cancer, known as oropharyngeal cancer, triggers when it faces exposure to the human papillomavirus. And, unfortunately, this occurrence isn’t extremely rare – more than 11,500 cases occur every year.
In fact, experts say that by the year 2020, the prevalence of oropharyngeal cancer will become more than that of cervical cancer.
However, although this risk is certainly increasing, the overall likelihood of obtaining this cancer is low. According to Prof. Gypsyamber D’Souza of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (and researcher of this study):

“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.”

“Among men who did not smoke,” Prof. D’Souza says, “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.”

 This data is the result of studying 13,089 people, all between the ages of 20 and 69, who were given a test for oral HPV infection.

According to the research, both men and women with the lowest risk of oropharyngeal cancer were those who had one or zero sexual partners in their lifetime.

The risk increased slightly with more sexual partners, and increased more drastically when the person was a smoker.

According to the study:

Non-smoking men who had had five or more oral sex partners had a prevalence of oral HPV infection of 7.4 percent. The highest prevalence of infection — reaching 15 percent — was observed among men with five or more oral sex partners and who smoked.

Despite this, Carole Fakhry (co-researcher in this study) admits that an HPV infection is not necessarily a predictor of cancer. Therefore, she says that screening for a cancer-causing oral HPV infection is difficult, to say the least. According to Dr. Fakhry:

“Currently, there are no tests that could be used for screening people for oropharyngeal cancer,” explains Dr. Fakhry. “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.”