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Your Sex Life and the Risk of Throat Cancer

Concerning reports have found that throat cancer is becoming an epidemic, and our sex lives could be behind it!

Over the past two decades, there has been a rapid increase in throat cancer in the US, to the extent that some have called it an epidemic. This has been due to a large rise in a specific type of throat cancer called “oropharyngeal cancer,” which impacts the area of the tonsils and back of the throat.

The main cause of this cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is also the main cause of cancer of the cervix. Oropharyngeal cancer has now become more common than cervical cancer in the US and the UK.

HPV is sexually transmitted.

For oropharyngeal cancer, the main risk factor is the number of lifetime sexual partners, especially those with whom you have engaged in oral sex. Those with six or more lifetime oral-sex partners are 8.5 times more likely to develop oropharyngeal cancer than those who do not practice oral sex.

Behavioral trends studies show that oral sex is very prevalent in Western countries, particularly the US and the UK.

How Does HPV Cause Cancer?

HPV infections are common, particularly among those who engage in oral sex.

Most of the time, when a person is infected, the immune system is eventually able to clear the body completely of the virus. However, a small number of people are not able to get rid of the infection, maybe due to a defect in a particular aspect of their immune system.

In such individuals, the virus is able to replicate continuously and, over time, integrates at random positions into the host’s DNA, some of which can cause the host cells to become cancerous.

Increasing cases of cervical cancer in women have prompted doctors and public health officials to encourage young girls to be vaccinated against HPV. There is also some evidence that boys gain “herd” immunity from vaccinated girls. But HPV vaccination rates remain low.

So why the rise in throat cancer? There is some evidence from population studies that, possibly in an effort to abstain from penetrative intercourse, young adults may practice oral sex instead, at least initially.

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