On Wednesday, New Scientist magazine reported that oral sex can cause oral cancer, although the risk is small. Citing a study by researchers working for the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, the article said that patients with oral cancer containing a strain of human papillomavirus (HPV) known as HPV 16 were three times more likely to report having oral sex than those without HPV 16. "The researchers think both cunnilingus and fellatio can infect people's mouths," the magazine reports. Raphael Viscidi, a virologist who worked on the study, said, "I think this will convince people." Scientists are currently working on vaccines to prevent cervical cancer, which also might be effective against oral cancer, the magazine reports.
The IARC scientists studied more than 1,600 patients from Europe, Canada, Australia, Cuba, and the Sudan who had oral cancer and more than 1,700 people without oral cancer. They found that while the risk is small and oral cancer is more likely to result from heavy drinking and smoking, HPV, which is also linked to cervical cancer, can be associated with tumors in the mouth. Heavy use of alcohol and cigarettes is estimated to cause 75% to 90% of oral cancer, and the combination of tobacco smoke and alcohol is thought to produce high levels of cancer-causing agents.