Oral sex might cause more throat cancer than smoking

A study published in yesterday's Journal of Clinical Oncology reveals that as many as 72 percent of throat tumors in men may be linked to the human papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV. The researchers hypothesize that the virus spreads predominately via oral sex, and that it may already account for more cases of throat cancer than smoking.

The authors write:

If recent incidence trends continue, the annual number of HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancers [which mostly affect men] is expected to surpass the annual number of cervical cancers by the year 2020.

"The burden of cancer caused by HPV is going to shift from women to men in this decade," said Maura Gillison, an oncologist at Ohio State University and lead author of the study. "What we believe is happening is that the number of sexual partners and exposure to HPV has risen over that same time period."

Both of the vaccines approved for preventing cervical cancers (Gardasil and Cervarix, marketed by Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, respectively) target the HPV strain linked to oral cancer, but these latest findings will put pressure on the companies to conduct trials to examine their vaccines' abilities to ward off HPV throat infections.

Whether the companies do or not (neither company has any plans to do so at this time), consensus within the medical community remains the same: get vaccinated.

[Via Bloomberg News]