Gimme Some Head? Oral Sex Leading To HPV

Oral sex has been shown to be less risky than other sexual activities, however, it is not risk-free. A new study shows that about 10 percent of men and 4 percent of women are orally infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), which can be acquired through oral sex and can cause cancer, says study author Maura Gillison, a professor at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. 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.

Even though the study does examine the effects of alcohol and smoking, many of the infections linked directly to oral sex. Oral HPV infections were more than eight times more common among people engaged in sexual activity  (vaginal, oral or anal intercourse)  than among people who have never had sex, Gillison said. The infections were also more common in people who had more sex partners and who began having oral sex as teenagers because less than 1% of people without sexual experience had an oral HPV infection.

The study does not explain why HPV infections are more common among men. However, doctors have long supported the notion that various cancers are more common in men than in women. Among the 2,483 men who participated in the study conducted in 2009 and 2010, 264 had an oral HPV infection. Of the 2,385 women, 88 had an oral infection, the study showed.

Gillison said further research must be done to see if vaccination will help lower oral HPV infection rates because not enough people in the U.S. are vaccinated to get a benefit. “We have a cancer that occurs largely among men and there’s no screening or preventive strategy. It’s difficult to sample the site in the throat where the virus makes its home,” she said.

There are many other factors associated with oral HPV infection outside of gender such as age, sexual activity and habits such like smoking/drinking. Gillison said the research is the first population-based study to examine how many men and women were infected.