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 & Oral Cancer
Cancers of the throat, called oropharyngeal cancers, are most often caused by HPV–16. This equals about 70 % 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.
Those other forms of HPV most often cause skin warts. This means that you are unlikely to develop cancer when you develop warts – 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 than 51,500. About 20% 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 contact the mucous membranes of someone else with the disease. This means that you can get the disease by having direct sexual contact, whether vaginal, anal, or oral. 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 unknown what other factors are needed to be present for 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
- Unexplained weight loss
- Being hoarse
- Constant earaches
HPV Testing and Oral Cancer
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 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. Seventy-five 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.
- While having sex, utilize a latex condom or dental dam.
- Have sex with only one partner who is only having sex with you. Men significantly 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.
Know About HPV Vaccine
In a study involving 2,600 young adults, recent research has found that the HPV vaccine can perform 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 % in a test group. Since the vaccine covers HPV-16, 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 % of Americans who are sexually active will get at least one type of HPV within their lifetime.
Who Can Utilize the Vaccine?
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.
To prevent the development of oral cancer – and the numbers are still going up of those getting it, more people need to get the vaccine – and help their children get it, too. It is even more critical because teens are becoming more sexually active. As of 2016, only 60 % of teens had been vaccinated, but as few as 43 % were on schedule to receive all three vaccinations.