Alarming Connection Between Oral Sex and Deadly Disease, Millions unaware

While the dangers of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption in relation to cancer are widely known, a significant number of people remain unaware of the increasing link between oral sex and several primary cancers. New research reveals that less than one-third of Americans know that Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection, can lead to cancer.

The study, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting, tracked the knowledge of over 2000 US adults regarding HPV’s association with cancer over six years. The results showed that approximately two-thirds of the respondents had heard of HPV, but only 70.2 percent were aware of its link to cervical cancer—a concerning 7.4 percent drop from the 2014 figure of 77.6 percent. The lead author, Professor Eric Adjei Boakye from the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit expressed his shock at these findings. Moreover, a mere 30 percent of the participants knew that HPV could cause throat or anal cancers.

The National Health Service (NHS) states that nearly all sexually active women and men will encounter HPV at some point in their lives, as it can be transmitted through any form of skin-to-skin contact, including kissing and sexual intercourse. While there are around 200 different strains of HPV, the majority are harmless. However, two strains, HPV16 and HPV18, are responsible for most HPV-related cancers, including vulva, vagina, penis, anal, head, and throat cancers.

Over the past two decades, a specific type of throat cancer called oropharyngeal cancer has seen a significant increase in the Western world. Researchers found that individuals with six or more lifetime oral sex partners are 8.5 times more likely to develop oropharyngeal cancer, with HPV being the primary cause of this disease.

Recognizing the symptoms of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer is crucial, as they may include ulcers that do not heal, mouth pain, red or white patches in the mouth or throat, difficulty swallowing, speech problems, a lump in the neck, weight loss, and bad breath. Cancer Research UK advises seeking medical or dental attention if experiencing any of these symptoms, as they can be indicative of various conditions.

Apart from the HPV virus, activities such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and chewing tobacco can also increase the risk of developing mouth and oropharyngeal cancer. Additionally, a lack of fruit and vegetable consumption can have a similar effect.

To combat the risks associated with HPV-related cancers, the UK has implemented a vaccination program for girls in Year 8, with a second dose administered up to two years later. Boys were included in the program in 2019, with the hope of significantly reducing HPV-related cancer cases in the future. However, recent government figures have shown a concerning decline in HPV vaccine coverage by 7 percent in Year 8 girls and 8.7 percent in Year 8 boys in the academic year 2021–2022, compared to the previous year. Parents must ensure their children receive the necessary doses and consult with school jab teams or GP surgeries if doses are missed.

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