The link between oral sex and cancer

  • By Sahana Rajan

Symptoms of oral cancer: The common symptoms of oral cancer include: Red and white spots on the tongue or the lining of the mouth, inflammation of the mouth which continues well over two weeks, mouth ulcers which take over three weeks to heal, discomfort and pain during swallowing food, and lastly, sensation that something is stuck in the throat.

HPV types and their nature: There are over 100 different types of HPV. Out of these, 15 have been found to cause cancer. These 15 types of HPV are called high-risk HPV. The HPV types which are found in the mouth are sexually communicable and the primary means for its transference is considered to be oral sex. It could also be carried through anal and vaginal sex, causing laryngeal cancer, anal cancer, cervical cancer, tonsil cancer, vulval and vaginal cancer, and penile cancer. Some of the HPV types get passed through skin contact. These cause warts, especially in the genital region. These types of HPV which cause the warts are less likely to escalate and cause cancer. Though there is no determinate answer as to how common the HPV mouth infection is. Advanced studies during the 21st century have put forward the role of HPV16 in new types of cancer. This was done using DNA testing.

Through a medical study, it was found that the most vulnerable groups are:

  1. People in the age group of 30 to 34 and 60 to 64 years old.
  2. People who have had over 20 sexual partners in their lifetime, around 20% suffer from HPV oral infection

HPV leads to cancer?: HPV does not directly cause cancer. It stimulates modifications in the cells which it has infected, like those in the mouth or cervix and due to the modifications the cell becomes cancerous. In only 10% of the cases where the patient suffers from HPV infection does cancer develop. The infection generally treats itself and is removed naturally within 2 years by the body. The chances of progression of the HPV infection into cancer is increased by smoking and drinking. Smoking injures the immune surveillance cells. Due to this injury, they are not able to fight the virus and the virus continues to persist over 2 years, leading to cancer.

Vaccinations: In the United Kingdom, girls (aged 12 and 13 years old) are vaccinated against HPV. This vaccination protects the women against cervical, vulval, and vaginal cancers. Men and boys also take vaccinations against HPV, though it is not pursued as strongly as in the case of women. This leaves men who have sex with other men at a greater risk of getting oral and anal cancer.

Even though the link between oral sex and cancer is not completely proven, what we do know is that oral sex causes many other infections like gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis, and chlamydia.

Did you know that a very low percentage of people (only 10%) who are infected with HPV virus develop cancer? In 90% of the cases, the infection is naturally cleared by the body within two years. The natural process is, however, obstructed in those who smoke and drink.

 

 


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