Nearly 13,500 American die each year from oral cancer. Drinking alcohol and smoking are known risk factors, but could oral sex be the main cause?
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, 54,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer each year. Dr. Nigel Carter of the Oral Health Foundation (OHF) says that mouth cancer rates are increasing “at an alarming rate.”
What are the main risk factors for oral cancer?
Consuming more than 10 alcoholic drinks a week along with smoking make up about 17% of oral cancers. These factors increase an individual’s risk of the disease by 91%.
But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV) causes 70% of oropharyngeal mouth cancers.
The famous actor Michael Douglas has publicly blamed his throat cancer on oral sex. Actress Marcia Cross also blames her anal cancer on the sexually transmitted disease.
According to Dr. Carter, HPV is a relatively new risk factor in comparison to drinking and smoking.
Those diagnosed with oral cancers in the US have about a 57% 5-year survival rate. But many have to remove their tongue or jaw in order to survive.
Oral cancer is a particularly debilitating disease since it often requires changes in someone’s ability to speak, eat and drink. Physical appearance is also often affected.
So how can you prevent HPV?
HPV is spread only through sexual activity. Thus, the only surefire way to avoid HPV is to avoid having sex at all.
But if you are sexually active, there are a few ways you can reduce or prevent your risk.
Limiting your sexual partners is a good way to lessen the chances of contracting HPV. Furthermore, getting the HPV vaccine, and ensuring your partner has it as well, will also lower your risk.
Using condoms or dental dams for every sexual encounter, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex will reduce your risk of getting many sexually transmitted diseases, including HPV.