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Risk factors for oropharyngeal cancer include early and frequent oral sex

American scientists called early (up to 18 years old) and frequent (more than ten partners per life and more than five partners per year) oral sex independent risk factors for the development of cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx caused by the human papillomavirus. To do this, they analyzed data on the sex life of 163 patients with oropharyngeal cancer and 345 healthy volunteers. Article published In the magazine Cancer.

According to the World Health Organization, most sexually active men and women during their lifetime get infected one or another human papillomavirus (HPV). Although HPV does not cause any life-threatening symptoms in most cases, some HPV strains are oncogenic: for example, HPV find in 95 percent of patients with cervical cancer (mainly high oncogenic risk viruses – types 16 and 18), and they can also cause tumors in the penis and vagina.

In addition to the reproductive organs, HPV can also cause a rather rare cancer of the anal canal and more common tumors of the oral cavity and larynx, and in the latter case, the frequency of kissing and oral sex is considered an important risk factor, in which barrier contraception, which limits the transmission of viruses during penetration, usually not used.

To explore the relationship between oral sex and HPV-induced oropharyngeal cancer in more detail, Virginia Drake of Johns Hopkins University and her colleagues analyzed the medical data of 163 patients diagnosed with cancer and 345 healthy controls, matched by gender, age, marital status. sexual orientation and nationality so as not to significantly differ from the patient group. The majority of the sample in both groups consisted of heterosexual white men aged 50 to 69 years old – married or living with a partner.

Participants were asked to tell in detail about the experience of oral sex (about the first such contact and the approximate number of partners), as well as about sexual activity in general. In addition, the participants were asked to tell whether they cheated on their regular partners or if their partners cheated on them – even if it was supposedly. Participants were also asked about other health indicators, in particular – about smoking, which can also contribute to the development of oropharyngeal cancer.

All volunteers underwent a test for HPV, as well as a test for antibodies to some proteins of different types of papillomaviruses, in particular, to the E6 protein of the HPV type of high oncogenic risk – HPV16: they were found in 93.6 percent of patients and 6.4 percent of participants in the control group …

Scientists found that those who had ever practiced oral sex were significantly more among patients than among participants in the control group (98.8 percent versus 90.4, p <0.001). Also, among the patients there were more (p = 0.004) those who started active sexual activity with oral sex and practiced it for the first time before the age of 18 (p <0.001). The patients had more oral sexual partners (44.8 percent of patients had more than 10 partners versus 19.1 participants in the control group, p <0.001), and they also practiced oral sex longer and more often. In addition, scientists listed oral sex with older partners, the total number of sexual partners, and cheating on the part of a regular partner among the significant factors.

The authors of the work, thus, once again confirmed that the number of sexual partners with whom a person practices oral sex is a risk factor for the development of cancer of the oral cavity and larynx caused by papillomaviruses. At the same time, the frequency of oral sex, expressed in the number of different partners per year, the age of the first such contact, as well as the age and monogamy of partners, scientists proposed to add to the list of additional and independent factors.

You can read more about how HPV and other viruses can cause cancerous tumors in our material. “Here is the infection”.

Elizaveta Ivtushok

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