Oral Sex: A Leading Factor in the Throat Cancer 'Epidemic' in the US, According to Experts

In the United States, oral sex has been identified as the most significant factor contributing to the rise in throat cancer cases. Dr. Hisham Mehanna, a professor at the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences at the University of Birmingham, stated that there has been a "rapid increase" in oropharyngeal cancer, which is a type of throat cancer, in the last two decades. This condition is now considered an "epidemic" in both the US and UK.

According to Dr. Mehanna, the primary risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer is the number of sexual partners an individual has had, particularly in relation to oral sex. He wrote in The Conversation that "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."

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that 70% of oropharyngeal cancers in the United States are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, with approximately 3 million new cases reported each year in the US alone. While many individuals infected with HPV may be asymptomatic, some may develop cancer later in life.

The American Cancer Society reports that oropharyngeal cancer cases linked to HPV increased by 1.3% annually in women and 2.8% in men between 2015 and 2019. Dr. Mehanna noted that although most individuals with HPV infections can "clear them completely," some may experience severe symptoms. In some cases, the virus can continuously replicate, and integrate at random positions into the host's DNA, leading to cancerous cells.

It typically takes several years after contracting HPV for cancer to develop, according to the CDC. The agency also noted that it remains unclear whether HPV alone is sufficient to cause oropharyngeal cancers or whether other factors, such as smoking or chewing tobacco, interact with HPV to contribute to cancer development.

In conclusion, with the increase in oropharyngeal cancer cases linked to HPV, it is critical to be aware of the risks associated with oral sex and multiple sexual partners. Engaging in safer sex practices and getting vaccinated against HPV can help protect against this potentially deadly cancer.

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