Oral Sex & Throat Cancer; What You Should Know

You likely think of cervical cancer when you hear about the rising incidence of human papilloma virus (HPV). So you might be surprised to learn that this sexually-transmitted virus is also a leading cause of throat cancer (oropharyngeal cancer), and it spreads from person to person via oral sex.

Often times, oral cancers are linked to smoking but recent medical studies finds that HPV is directly related to some throat cancers. As a matter of fact, these cancers are becoming rampant, and soon will outpace new cervical cancer cases.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, there are 18,000 new cases of throat cancer diagnosed annually that are potentially related to HPV. About 10% of men and 4% of women have oral HPV, but only about 1% have the particular type associated with throat cancer: HPV 16.

Most of the time, HPV goes away all by itself and most people never know they have it. It’s not yet understood why HPV stays in others for decades, potentially causing throat cancer.

So what are the risks?
The All Time leading risk in contracting oral HPV and developing HPV-related throat cancer is having multiple oral sex partners. Having a higher number of partners increases the risk for both men and women.

Women experience less HPV-related throat cancer, researchers say, because they may have developed an immunological response to fight off cervical cancer. Men don’t possess the same immunity.

Smoking also raises the risk of developing throat cancer and decreases the response to treatment in patients that are diagnosed with HPV-related throat cancer.

How do you limit your risks?
There are five ways to significantly help you limit your risk of HPV-related throat cancer:
Don’t have many lifetime sexual partners: The increase in risk involved with greater numbers of sexual partners is even greater for oral sexual partners. Also, use condoms or dental dams consistently for some protection.
Get children and young adults vaccinated: For males and females between ages 9 and 45, a three-round HPV vaccine can ward off HPV infection and likely will lead to decreased risk of developing these HPV- related cancers.
Regular Screening & Checkup: Regular screening increases the chances you’ll catch a tumor early. Your doctor will feel your neck, examine your throat and inspect your mouth.
Visit your dentist. Get regular dental checkups because dentists are often the first practitioners to notice abnormalities with the tongue and tonsils.
Limit smoking and alcohol: Cut off smoking completely and reduce alcohol consumption to minimize your risk.

What symptoms should you watch for?
HPV-related throat cancer symptoms can often go unnoticed, because they’re difficult to discern by a non medical person. They could easily pass for a sore throat. If any of the symptoms lasts beyond two weeks, see your doctor or an ear, nose and throat specialist. The symptoms include:

Neck mass or swelling.
Ear pain.
Painful swallowing (like something is stuck in the back of your throat.
Snoring (as a new issue, without sudden weight gain).
Difficulty eating.
Vocal changes (hoarseness).
Sore throat.
Enlarged lymph nodes.
Unexplained weight loss.
HPV oral cancers slow to develop, but quick to spread
HPV-related cancers spread quickly to the lymph nodes. It’s not that the tumors spread quickly due to issues with the immune system — they spread quickly for unknown reasons. However, they show up first as large swollen lymph nodes because the body has an immune response at the site of the lymph nodes once tumor reaches this area, causing swelling and a noticeable neck lump.

It can take up to 30 years for HPV-related throat cancer to appear, making it most common in adults between the ages of 40 and 60.

Know your risks and stay protected.

Get vaccinated. You can book an appointment with the Reliance Family Clinics for the HPV vaccine. It’s three shots and you’re protected for life.


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