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Oral Sex Drives Rise in Throat Cancer

Oral Sex Drives Rise in Throat CancerDental hygienists may already be taking notice of a steep rise in the number of patients being diagnosed with throat cancer. The phenomenon is largely the result of a 20 year evolution in sexual

Oral Sex Drives Rise in Throat Cancer

Increasing rates of HPV infection, spread through oral sex, is largely driving a rise in oropharyngeal cancers, said Scott Lippman, MD, who chairs the thoracic department at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at a recent news conference conducted by the American Association for Cancer Research./uploadedimages/DDH/Community/Product_Info/Press_Releases/Images/0809xpr2.jpg

Lippman’s remarks were reported in a July article at

“The types of patients we are seeing now with oropharyngeal cancers are not the patients we have classically seen who were older, smokers, and have lots of other problems,” said Scott Lippman, MD, during the news conference. Lippman chairs the thoracic department at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas.

“These are young people, executives, a whole different population” Lippman explained, and pointed out that the high numbers stem primarily from the increase in rates of HPV infection through oral sex.

In an article that originally appeared on WebMD, Lippman revealed that studies of oropharyngeal tumor tissue stored 20 years ago show only around 20% are HPV positive. Today it is estimated that 60% of patients are infected with the virus.

“The percentage of oropharyngeal cancers that are HPV positive is much higher now than it was 20 years ago,” Lippman said. “This is a real trend, and that is why there is concern of an epidemic given that fact that oropharyngeal cancer is increasing at an alarming rate.”

As Many as Half

American Cancer Society Chief Medical Officer Otis Brawley, MD, reports that as many as half of the oropharyngeal cancers diagnosed today appear to be caused by HPV infection.

“Changing sexual practices over the last 20 years, especially as they relate to oral sex, are increasing the rate of head and neck cancers and may be increasing the rates of other cancers as well,” he said.

Brawley adds that there is some evidence oral HPV infection is also a risk factor for a type of cancer that involves the esophagus.

Awareness Is Critical

The news conference provided an opportunity for experts to advocate for a remodeling of the idea that oral sex is safe sex, and raise awareness among the public of the real cancer risks associated with oral sex.

The message was unofficially promoted when the HIV epidemic rose to prominence and it is reportedly still widely believed by many, teens in particular.

According to the WebMD article, studies suggest teens are often unaware of the risks associated with unprotected oral sex, including the transmission of HPV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea.

“There is a huge public health message here,” Brawley says.

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