Oral Sex Can Lead to Oral Cancer

HPV vaccines and potential prevention

Researchers already know that there is a strong connection between oral sex and developing oral cancer. The connection between the two is the human papillomavirus infection (HPV). This virus can lie dormant for many years – even decades – before it creates recognizable cancer symptoms.

About HPV and Oral Cancer

Cancers of the throat, called oropharyngeal cancers, are most often caused by HPV-16. This equals about 70 percent of all cases. The HPV-16 virus is one out of about 200 different types of human papillomavirus. Most of the other varieties do not cause cancer, except for HPV-18 and about 12 more.

The other types are most likely to cause skin warts.

Skin warts are most often caused by those other forms of HPV. This means that when you develop warts that you are unlikely to develop cancer – unless you have contracted more than one type of HPV.

The number of annual cases of oral cancer, in general, is expected to be more 51,500. About 20 percent of this number – more than 10,000 – will die from it. There will be twice as many men as women among this number.

HPV Is Easily Spread

All it takes to get an HPV is to have skin come in contact with the mucous membranes of someone else with the disease. This means that having direct sexual contact, whether it is vaginal, anal, or oral, and you can get the disease. You can also get it by having skin to skin contact.

In most people, the human body will naturally eliminate the HPV virus. This will usually happen in less than two years. It is not known why some people are not able to eliminate the HPV virus. It is also not known what other factors are needed to be present for the mouth cancer to start.

Symptoms of Oropharyngeal Cancer

When you have oropharyngeal cancer, you can expect there to be several symptoms. These may include:  
  • Sores that do not heal

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Red and white patches in the mouth

  • Lymph nodes that are enlarged

  • Constant sore throats

  • Growths or lumps on the neck or cheeks

  • Weight loss that is unexplained

  • Being hoarse

  • Constant earaches

HPV Testing

There are currently on the market several tests that can detect an oral HPV. Unfortunately, the benefit of the testing ends there. There is no test available yet that can detect the development of oral cancer. It is also rather unlikely that such a test may be developed any time soon.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Decreasing the Risk of Oral Cancer

If you are at risk for developing oral cancer, or simply want to be safe and avoid it, there are several ways to reduce your risk. They include:
  • Quit using tobacco of any kind. Tobacco is one of the highest risk factors. 75 percent of people over 50 with oral cancer have been smokers.

  • Reduce or stop using alcohol. People who smoke and drink raise their risk 30 times higher.

  • Use a latex condom or dental dam when having sex.

  • Have sex with only one partner who is only having sex with you. Men greatly increase their risk of oral cancer when they have oral sex with six or more partners or have regular sex with more than 26 partners.

  • See your dentist regularly. The survival rates are much greater if the cancer is detected early. The dentist is trained to spot and detect it.

  • Avoid sex – if you want to be completely safe, you can avoid sex altogether. This includes vaginal, anal, and oral.

Get the HPV Vaccine

Recent research has found, in a study involving 2,600 young adults, that the HPV vaccine can actually perform a double-duty. It can help prevent getting HPV, and it can also reduce your risk of getting oral cancer. After only one dose of the vaccine, it reduced the risk by as much as 88 percent in a test group. Since the vaccine covers HPV-16, this means that it can prevent more than half of the types of oropharyngeal cancer.

The importance of the vaccine can be seen by looking at how widespread the HPV viruses have become. In the United States, it is believed that as many as 85 percent of Americans who are sexually active will get at least one type of HPV within their lifetime.

Who the Vaccine Is for

The vaccine has been designed to be used on young people aged 11-12 when they should get their first vaccine. A second vaccine is to be given about six months later. If someone has not obtained the vaccine before they turn 26, they can still get it.

In order to prevent the development of oral cancer – and the numbers are still going up of those who are getting it, more people need to get the vaccine – and help their children get it, too. It is even more important because teens are becoming more sexually active. As of 2016, only 60 percent of teens had been vaccinated, but as few as 43 percent were on schedule to receive all three vaccinations.

If you believe you are at risk for oral cancer, or may already have oral cancer and need oral cancer screening, Dr. Kumar T. Vadivel, DDS, FDS RCS, MS, a Board Certified Periodontist, can provide it. He provides careful screening for oral cancer symptoms. Most dental health plans are accepted. His dental offices are located in the Carrollton, TX, and Grapevine, TX areas. For a consultation or dental checkup, you can contact his office today at (817) 756-8578