Dr. Hisham Mehanna is a professor from the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences at the University of Birmingham. According to a recent article he wrote in “The Conversation,” the professor believes oral sex is the number one risk factor for developing oropharyngeal cancer, also known as throat cancer.
Oropharyngeal cancer is the primary type of throat cancer associated with high-risk human papillomavirus(HPV) infections. It targets the back of a person’s throat and tonsils.
Over the last few decades, oral sex has contributed to the increasing number of throat cancer cases in Western countries like the United Kingdom and the United States. Dr. Mehanna referred to the rising throat cancer cases as an epidemic.
Most people associate throat cancer with smoking, but that is not the case with oropharyngeal cancer. HPV is the leading cause of this particular type of throat cancer, as well as the leading cause of cervical cancer too. In Western countries, more cases of oropharyngeal cancer have been reported than cervical cancer.
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection transmitted from intimate skin-to-skin contact. If you contract HPV from giving oral sex to another infected person, you have a much higher risk of developing throat cancer. And if you have many sexual partners, the risk is even higher.
Dr. Mehanna stated that practicing oral sex with six or more sexual partners within a lifetime will increase your likelihood of developing oropharyngeal cancer by 8.5 times. Since many young adults engage in oral sex rather than penetrative sex, the risk of throat cancer continues to rise.
Dr. Mehanna conducted a recent research study that revealed around 80% of British adults have engaged in oral sex at least once within their lifetimes. Fortunately, only a tiny percentage of them have developed throat cancer. He believes these few cancer cases are due to deficiencies in the infected people’s immune systems.
When a person’s immune system cannot eradicate HPV from the body, the virus replicates and increases the growth of abnormal cells and precancerous cells. This continues until the cells turn cancerous.
Most Western countries recommend young girls receive the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer in their later years. Dr. Mehanna also believes young boys can benefit from getting the HPV vaccine because there are plenty of cases where men have contracted HPV through oral sex and then went on to get oropharyngeal cancer.
Perhaps the most famous example is actor Michael Douglas. In 2013, the legendary actor was diagnosed with throat cancer, which he partially attributed to oral sexual activity with women. But the other contributing factors were his heavy drinking and smoking too.
Therefore, the best thing you can do to prevent oropharyngeal cancer is to practice safe sex and receive the HPV vaccine if you hadn’t gotten it when you were younger. Talk to your primary care physician for more clarification on what you can do to prevent HPV infections and oropharyngeal cancer.