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The Irish News

Lucy Stock is a columnist for The Irish News
For more info visit www.irishnews.com

Oral Sex And
Mouth Cancer

 

by Lucy Stock BDS DipImpDent RCS (Eng)

Published in the Irish News . 24.07.2013

It’s commendable that the actor Michael Douglas has revealed that his throat cancer developed due to the sexually transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This has paved the way for a more candid discussion of how sexual contact can lead to cancer which is especially important as a recent survey has suggested one in ten people in the UK won't seek medical help for a sexually transmitted disease because they’re too embarrassed.

Published in The Lancet, findings discovered men who smoke and are not married or living with a partner are at far greater risk of developing HPV - one of the leading causes of mouth cancer. HPV infections are also responsible for causing anal and penile cancers in men as well as a large majority of cervical cancer cases in women. Within the next decade its forecast that HPV is to rival smoking as the leading cause of mouth cancer. Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, says '”In the UK around one in five cases of oral cancer are predicted to be as a result of HPV, yet our awareness and understanding of the virus is alarmingly low. Cases of mouth cancer have doubled in the last 30 years, coinciding with the rise of HPV.”

Often, there are no symptoms of an HPV infection and the body can clear the infection on its own over the course of a few years. Some people never know they were infected. In fact, research has found that about 90% of women infected with HPV show no traces of the virus within two years. However if the virus persists, it can cause abnormal changes in the cells which leads to cancer. Using condoms helps but doesn’t give 100% protection. The only way to absolutely avoid the risk of infection is to abstain from sex. You can also limit the number of sexual partners you have or choose partners who've had few or no sexual partners before you. Above all be aware of changes in your mouth and regular screening by your dental team are essential. It’s fantastic that early diagnosis improves survival rates to more than 90%. If in doubt get checked out.

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