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Rise in Some Head and Neck Cancers Tied to Oral Sex: Study
Date:1/25/2011

d early 70s generation -- probably had more freedom in sexual relationships in general, including oral sex," added Dr. Bert W. O'Malley, Jr., chair of otorhinolaryngology--head and neck surgery at the University of Pennsylvania.

And at least in terms of oral sex, that appears true for those younger than Boomers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, in 2002, some 90 percent of males and 88 percent of females aged 25 to 44 reported ever having oral sex with a partner of the opposite sex.

Comparable figures from 1992 showed that about three-quarters of men aged 20 to 39 and closer to 70 percent of women aged 18 to 59 having ever given or received oral sex.

The silver lining is that the HPV-related head and neck cancers are eminently more treatable than those attributable to smoking or drinking, even though they tend to be diagnosed at a later stage.

"[HPV-related head-and-neck cancers] have been a lot easier to treat. You can use less-intensive radiation," said Dr. D.J. Verret, clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and a plastic surgeon in Plano, Texas.

About 85 percent of non-smoking people with HPV-positive tumors survive. That number drops to 45 or 50 percent in people who smoke and are HPV-negative, Lydiatt said.

And tongue and tonsil cancers remain relatively rare in the United States. The other good news -- at least for the younger set -- is that there is a relatively new vaccine to prevent against HPV infection. It's not going to help those who are already infected, but it "absolutely" could help those who aren't yet infected with the ubiquitous virus, Verret said.

Meanwhile, people, especially younger people, need to realize that smoking is not the only risk factor for head and neck cancer. If you find a lump in your neck, even if you're only 20 or 30, "pay attention to it," Lydiatt said.

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