The US and UK are suffering a throat cancer ‘epidemic’ — and experts point to oral sex as the culprit.
Dr Hisham Mehanna, from the UK’s University of Birmingham, said 70 percent of cases of throat cancer are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a normally harmless virus that is spread sexually and has been linked to multiple forms of cancers.
Dr Mehanna said people with multiple oral sex partners have an up to nine-fold increased risk of throat cancer.
There is a vaccine for HPV, but only 54 percent of Americans have received it — far below the 80 percent figure believed to be a threshold for population safety.
Doctors have warned that HPV — the world’s most common STD — is the leading risk factor for throat cancer in men and women (stock)
This graph shows how the number of new cases of throat cancer has ticked upward in the US since 1999. It is rising by about one percent a year in women and three percent in men
Dr Mehanna wrote in The Conversation: ‘Over the past two decades, there has been a rapid increase in throat cancer in the west, to the extent that some have called it an epidemic.
‘This has been due to a large rise in a specific type of throat cancer called oropharyngeal cancer.’
Oropharyngeal cancer is the most common type of throat cancer. It appears in the tonsils and back of the throat.
Doctors consider HPV infection to be the biggest risk factor for developing the disease.
Dr Hisham Mehanna is a surgeon at the University of Birmingham, UK. He gave a warning over the cancer.
Dr Mehanna continued: ‘HPV is sexually transmitted. For oropharyngeal cancer, the main risk factor is the number of lifetime sexual partners, especially oral sex.
‘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.’
More than 50,000 cases of oral or oropharyngeal cancer are diagnosed in the US each year, causing more than 10,000 annual deaths.
The number of cases is growing, however, up to 1.3 percent a year in women and 2.8 percent in men, according to the American Cancer Society.
Doctors have found that oral sex is the biggest risk factor for them — outpacing smoking, alcohol consumption and an unhealthy diet.
This is because the acts can lead to an HPV infection at the back of the throat or near the tonsil.
These infections go away on their own in most cases but sometimes can persist and cause cancer.
Scientists at NYU Langone estimate that as much as 70 percent of throat cancer cases are caused by HPV infections.
In the UK, head and neck cancers combined are responsible for more than 12,000 cases and 4,000 deaths per year.
This data shows that in the UK cases of throat cancer have been trending upward, just like in the US
HPV is a common virus spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex with someone who is already infected.
There is a vaccine for HPV. It is more than 80 percent effective and available in much of the developed world.
It is a two-dose vaccine for children between ages 11 and 12. The shots come 12 months apart.
For people who missed that window, a three-dose shot is available to people 15 to 26.
The shot was available to only females in the US until 2020, when eligibility was expanded to men too.
It comes after a poll revealed that fewer and fewer Americans are aware that HPV can cause cervical cancer.
One of the world’s most common STDs, survey results showed that the proportion of people aware it could spark cancer had fallen seven percent since 2014.
Dr Eric Boakye, an assistant scientist at Henry Ford Health Center in Detroit, Michigan, who led the research, said: ‘Over 90 percent of HPV-associated cancers could be prevented with the HPV vaccine, yet vaccine uptake remains sub-optimal.
‘Given the connections between HPV-associated cancer awareness and HPV vaccine uptake, it is important we increase the population’s awareness of this link, as it may help increase vaccine uptake.’
He added: ‘Research has shown a high degree of public trust in HPV information when received from healthcare providers.’