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Oral Sex and Cancer

Oral Sex and Cancer


In most of the world, smoking or chewing tobacco is the primary cause of oral cancer, but recent research indicates that in the United States, the greatest risk comes from exposure to the human papillomavirus contracted through oral sex.

HPV is the virus most often associated with cervical cancer, but it's not just a health threat for women. More than 60% of the cancers of the mouth and pharynx are caused by HPV, researchers reported at this year's meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Maura Gillison, MD, the first scientist to note the link between the virus and oral cancers, said men and women who had oral sex with six or more partners in their lifetime had an eightfold increase in risk of oral cancer, compared to someone who has never performed oral sex, due to increased exposure to HPV. I've never seen as much oral cancer as I'm seeing now, and it's an observation that the research supports: There has been a huge jump in oral cancer rates from 1974 to 2007 -- a whopping 225% increase. But medical websites are going to have to catch up. Most sites still list tobacco, alcohol, and a history of head and neck cancer as the main things to watch out for.

Oral cancer can look like white or red patches in your mouth, bleeding in the mouth, a lump in the neck, or warts. The warts caused by HPV can sometimes be burned or frozen off, and treating symptoms sooner is always better than later. So if you see or feel anything abnormal in your mouth, call your physician. And if you're having sex and can afford Gardasil ($300-500), you should get the vaccination. It vaccinates patients against the four most common strains of HPV -- two of which are most likely to lead to cancer -- and it's effective in men and women of any age, not just for women up to 26.

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