Sexual intercourse and pleasure are important in any relationship, but it turns out oral sex with more than five past partners may spell trouble — specifically, for men. According to a new study published in Annals of Oncology, men who have a high number of oral sexual partners may increase their risk for head and neck cancer. As IFLScience reports, the same is true for men who smoke. However, the highest risk category is men who smoke and have a high number of oral sex partners.
The study shows that HPV-related oropharyngeal (middle part of the throat) squamous cell cancer among men has nearly doubled over the last 20 years. Though the rate of those diagnosed is relatively low (only 0.7 percent of men and even lower for women), this finding is still troubling. Experts estimate that by 2020, oropharyngeal cancer will become a bigger issue than cervical cancer in the U.S.
Said study author Dr. Amber D’Souza, associate professor at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: “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 who did not smoke, cancer-causing oral HPV was rare among everyone who had less than five oral sex partners, although the chances of having oral HPV infection did increase with number of oral sexual partners, and with smoking.”
For the study, 13,089 people between the ages of 20 and 69 were tested for oral HPV infection. The researchers also used data on US oropharyngeal cancer cases and deaths to predict a person’s cancer risk from oral HPV. The results are quite troubling.
It turns out, men who engage in oral sex with five or more partners showed a prevalence of 7.4 percent for oral infection with cancer-causing types of HPV. This is drastically higher than the 1.5 percent of men who had oral sex with one or no partners. Men who had oral sex with two to four partners increased their risk to 4 percent. Smoking increased the prevalence to 7.1 percent. Men who smoke and gave oral sex with five or more partners showed a 15 percent prevalence.
“Currently there are no tests that could be used for screening people for oropharyngeal cancer. It is a rare cancer and for most healthy people the harms of screening for it would outweigh the benefits because of the problem of false positive test results and consequent anxiety,” said co-author Dr. Carole Fakhyr, an associate professor at John Hopkins. “Our research shows that identifying those who have oral HPV infection does not predict their future risk of cancer well, and so screening based on detecting cancer-causing oral HPV infection would be challenging. However, we are carrying out further research of oral HPV infection in young healthy men to explore this further.”
This study lends weight to Richard Shaw’s argument that boys — in addition to girls — need to be vaccinated against HPV. Shaw, a Cancer Research UK scientist from the University of Liverpool, mentioned that “along with vaccinating against HPV, helping people to quit smoking and cut down on alcohol are important.”