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Oral sex now the leading ‘risk factor’ for throat cancer—expert

By Brooke Villanueva Published May 01, 2023 10:19 am

Oral sex is now the leading “risk factor” for oropharyngeal cancer, a British expert said. 

According to a report by Insider, Dr. Hisham Mehanna of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences noted the “rapid increase” in throat cancer cases in recent years.

Dr. Mehanna said that oropharyngeal cancer is mainly caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted. “For oropharyngeal cancer, the main risk factor is the number of lifetime sexual partners, especially oral sex,” he said. 

“Those with six or more lifetime oral-sex partners are 8.5 times more likely to develop oropharyngeal cancer than those who do not practice oral sex,” he noted. 

The National Cancer Institute defines oropharyngeal cancer as “a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the oropharynx.” Among its most common signs and symptoms are neck lump and sore throat. 

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of its types can lead to health concerns such as genital warts and cancers.

Dr. Mehanna said that since HPV can be “cleared completely,” only a few cases progress to cancer due to a problem with their immune systems. 

Insider reported that oropharyngeal cancer can be prevented by practicing safe sex and getting jabbed with the “highly effective" HPV vaccine that is available widely.