Survey: Many in the U.K. unaware of HPV/oral cancer link

Too many parents and young people in the U.K. are unaware of one of the most common sexually transmitted infections -- human papillomavirus (HPV) -- and its link to oral and other cancers, according to a survey conducted by the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF).

The BDHF surveyed 802 respondents in September 2011, including 183 people ages 12-16 and 206 parents of children ages 12-16.

Less than half (42%) of the survey respondents were aware of HPV, compared wotj high ratings across the board for other common sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV (97%), chlamydia (93%), herpes (92%), gonorrhea (90%), and syphilis (89%).

Only 25% were aware that HPV is a cause of cervical cancer, and only 4% identified HPV as a cause of oral cancer transmitted via oral sex.

The findings suggest that the current sex education curriculum in schools may need to be reviewed to ensure greater awareness and discussion of HPV, according to the foundation.

Last year, a total of 482,696 new sexually transmitted infections cases were reported in the U.K. Experts predict HPV will overtake the current main risk factors of alcohol and tobacco, within the next 10 years. Without early detection, an estimated 30,000 people in the U.K. will die from oral cancer in the next decade, the foundation noted.

"The mere presence of HPV as a risk factor for mouth cancer means the traditional risk age of over 40 no longer applies, as sufferers are getting younger," said Nigel Carter, BDS, chief executive of the BDHF in a press release. "It is therefore crucial that everyone knows the potential signs of mouth cancer. These include ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, white and red patches in the mouth, and lumps or swellings in the mouth."

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