Breakthrough research has offered a clue as to why oral cancer has been on the rise recently and more so in persons not regarded as primary-risk candidates . American scientists say that oral sex is a risky sexual act that passes on the human papillomavirus or HPV between partners and may give cause to oral cancer even if the person does not smoke, drink or use any substance known to predispose to the disease.
Says lead researcher Maura L. Gillison, an assistant professor of oncology and epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore:"There's been a kind of sea change in the last 10 years in who we're seeing with these cancers. It makes sense with some changes we've seen in sexual behavior."
The study, involving 100 people with throat cancer and 200 without it, found that those infected with the human papillomavirus were 32 times as likely to develop one form of oral cancer than those free of the virus.
Patients whose blood or saliva samples indicated that they had prior HPV infection were 32 times more likely to develop oropharnygeal cancer, which affects the throat, tonsils and back of the tongue.
Also, those people who had had more than six oral sex partners were 8,6 times more likely to develop the HPV-linked cancer.
These figures establish HPV infection as the greatest risk factor for this type of cancer, overturning previous theories blaming a pack-a-day smoking habit for 20 years, or regular heavy alcohol consumption over 15 years.
Although previous research had indicated HPV caused oral cancer, this new study appears to be the first to definitively establish the link.
Says Gilson: "It makes it absolutely clear that oral HPV infection is a risk factor.
The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine also provides new evidence that contradicts widespread misconceptions about oral sex.
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