Too much oral sex could lead to an increased risk of mouth and throat cancer, according to a new study that looked into the correlation between giving head and getting human papillomavirus (HPV).
A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University got more than 500 people to complete a behavioural survey on their sexual activities over several years. About a third of participants had been diagnosed with HPV; about two thirds hadn’t. Main points of interest included an individual’s age, their total number of sexual partners, the age of their “sexual initiation”, and the number of people they performed oral sex on within a short time period.
The findings, published in the American Cancer Society’s peer-reviewed journal CANCER, indicate that having 10 prior oral sex partners is linked to a 4.3-times greater likelihood of contracting HPV-related cancer of the mouth and throat, and that having oral sex at a younger age and more partners in a shorter time period are both associated with higher risk.
Participants who had older sexual partners when they were young and those with partners who engaged in extramarital sex were also more likely to have contracted the cancers, while those who had never engaged in oral sex were less likely.
“Our study builds on previous research to demonstrate that it is not only the number of oral sexual partners, but also other factors not previously appreciated that contribute to the risk of exposure to HPV orally and subsequent HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer,” said Virginia Drake, MD, who conducted the study.
“We have uncovered additional nuances of how and why some people may develop this cancer, which may help identify those at greater risk.”
The study further notes that those who give oral sex before engaging in intercourse for the first time are at an increased risk of becoming infected with HPV. Reason being that, according to researchers, an initial exposure to HPV via the genitals results in a “robust immune response”, thus preparing a person’s body for when the virus is introduced orally. Those who go straight for oral sex lack this immune response, and are therefore at a higher risk of infection.
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