Well, not really, but a new study found that oropharyngeal cancer – cancers of the tonsil, back of the mouth (throat) and base of the tongue—have been on the rise since the 1980s. Researchers say the surge in these types of cancer may be due in part to an increase in people having oral sex and contracting oral human papillomavirus (HPV).
According to scientists, oropharyngeal cancer falls into two categories—those caused by tobacco and alcohol and those caused by oral HPV. And according to the data, nearly 70% of mouth cancer is caused by the sexually transmitted disease.
Researchers tested cancer tissue samples from almost 6,000 patients in Hawaii, Iowa and Los Angeles between 1984 and 2004. They found the HPV-positive cancers increased 225% while HPV-negative oropharynx cancers dropped 50%–most likely because of a reduction in smoking and tobacco use. Even so, patients with HPV-positive cancers live longer.
“Patients with HPV positive cancers have better survival rates,” said principal investigator Dr. Anil Chaturvedi of the National Cancer Institute. “The precise reasons for the survival benefits are not clear, but tumors in HPV-positive patients tend to have less genetic damage. Because of that, they are more responsive to cancer therapies like radiation treatment.”
Although HPV is commonly known for causing cervical cancer in women, researchers feel the rise in oral cancers caused by the disease will have a dramatic affect on men.
“The burden of invasive HPV-caused cancers will shift from women to men in the US, largely due to the rise of HPV-positive oropharynx cancers among men,” Gillison said. “HPV infection and its consequences have long been considered a women’s problem, and women will continue to bear the brunt of the morbidity associated with the infection. However, gender equity is being achieved with regard to the burden of HPV-caused cancers. HPV infection is therefore a problem for both men and women.”
So can how people protect themselves? Apparently 95% of the oral cancers caused by STDs are caused by HPV16, which is targeted by vaccines currently on the market to prevent cervical cancer. Although HPV vaccines are recommended for teens and those who aren’t sexually active, getting the HPV vaccine may still be useful to guard against many strains of HPV.