Men who have oral sex with multiple partners have higher cancer risk

The risk of contracting HPV-related oral cancer is highest among sexually-active men while sexually-active women do not have a very elevated risk new research shows

Having oral sex with multiple partners significantly increases risk of head and neck cancer in men, study finds

It's worth noting that HPV does not directly give a person cancer, it causes changes in the cells it has infected (for example, in the throat) and these cells can then become cancerous.

Smoking cigarettes, along with having five or more oral sex partners, increases men's risk for the most common type of head and neck cancer.

For the study, data was analysed of 13,089 people part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and tested for oral HPV.

Further research to explore oral HPV infection in young healthy men is now being conducted.

Risk of infection rose further among men who smoked and had two to four oral sex partners, with a prevalence of 7.1 per cent, rising to 7.4 per cent among those who did not smoke but who had five or more oral sex partners. Women with the lowest risk were those who had one or no oral sex partners and did or did not smoke.

HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers approximately tripled in British men and doubled in British women between 1995 and 2011.

Study author Dr Amber D'Souza, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said: "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, the lowest risk group were those who had one or no oral sex partners in their lifetimes, with only 1.5 per cent of them getting an oral HPV infection, which rises to four per cent among non-smokers with two to four oral sex partners.

Over time, HPV infection in the throat, if not cleared out of the body, could result in OPSCC or oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma. HPV strains 16 and 18 trigger most cervical cancer.

Researchers don't know for certain why the risk for oral HPV and head and neck cancer is higher for men than women.

Oral sex was clearly associated with a higher prevalence of infection, although the highest infection prevalence was seen only among men. However, that theory doesn't completely explain why men who have sex with men are also at an increased risk for oral HPV and its related cancer.

It is transmitted to the mouth and throat mostly by performing oral sex and appears to cause about 70 per cent of oropharyngeal cancers.

"Currently there are no tests that could be used for screening people for oropharyngeal cancer".

Oral infections with the dozen HPV types known to cause oropharyngeal cancer especially HPV 16 were present at low prevalence in every defined group in the study.

Identifying who is at risk is will help curb the disease. Should an effective screening method become commercially available, it would be important to know which populations of people would benefit most from such a diagnostic test.

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