New research shines light on risks for HPV-linked oral cancer

2018 01 18 23 26 2866 Hpv 400

People who have had more than 10 oral sex partners face an approximately four times greater risk of developing HPV-associated mouth and throat cancer than those with fewer mates, according to a study published on January 11 in Cancer.

Engaging in oral sex at a younger age and participating in this sexual activity with more partners during a smaller window of time -- referred to as oral sex intensity -- also puts people at greater risk of developing HPV-linked oropharyngeal cancer (OPC). The authors believe their study is the most comprehensive behavioral snapshot of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer to date.

"Number of oral sex partners remains a strong risk factor for HPV-OPC; however, timing and intensity of oral sex are novel independent risk factors," wrote the group, led by Dr. Virginia Drake of the otolaryngology-head and neck surgery department at Johns Hopkins University. "These behaviors suggest additional nuances of how and why some individuals develop HPV-OPC."

HPV has propelled a rise in the number of cases of oropharyngeal cancer in the U.S. and other countries. Numerous studies have shown that performing oral sex is a strong risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer, but the current study aimed to better understand how behaviors related to oral sex affect a person's likelihood of developing mouth or throat cancers.

More than 500 people participated in the study; 163 individuals with HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer and 345 without the disease completed a behavioral survey. Blood and tumor samples were also obtained.

Partners, age, and more

Among those with HPV-OPC, approximately 45% had more than 10 oral sex partners over their lifetimes, compared with around 19% in the control group. Approximately 19% of those with oropharyngeal cancer had six to 10 partners, the researchers found.

The intensity of oral sex exposure, measured by sex-years (the number of partners per 10 years), was significantly higher among those with HPV-OPC than the controls. About 31% had more than five partners during that period, compared with about 11% in the control group.

The age at first oral sex encounter was significantly lower among the HPV-OPC patients than the controls. Approximately 37% of those in the HPV-OPC group performed oral sex for the first time before they turned 18, compared with about 23% in the control group.

A clearer picture

Though this was a strong multi-institutional study, it had some limitations, the authors noted. For example, behavioral data were collected via a confidential computer-assisted self-interview. Recall bias or misreporting couldn't be ruled out due to self-reporting. Despite the limitations, the new information can help clinicians better understand HPV-related oral cancers, they wrote.

"As HPV-OPC incidence in the United States continues to rise, these findings have important public health implications and inform epidemiological understanding of head and neck cancer," they wrote.

Page 1 of 115
Next Page