Men who smoke and have oral sex with multiple partners may be at an increased risk of developing a type of head and neck cancer, a study warns.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in the US found that the cancer is triggered by exposure to the human papilloma virus – known as HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer. The study, published in the journal Annals of Oncology, noted that only 0.7 per cent of men will ever develop oropharyngeal cancer in their lifetimes.
The risk was much lower among women, anyone who did not smoke, and people who had less than five oral sex partners in their lifetimes, researchers said.
“Most people perform oral sex in their lives, and we found that oral infection with cancer-causing HPV was rare among women regardless of how many oral sex partners they had,” said Amber D’Souza, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University.
Researchers noted that among men who did not smoke, cancer-causing oral HPV was rare among everyone who had less than five oral sex partners, although the chances of having oral HPV infection did increase with number of oral sexual partners, and with smoking.
Researchers analysed data from 13,089 people, aged 20-69 years, who had been tested for oral HPV infection. They used the numbers of oropharyngeal cancer cases and deaths from US registries to predict the risk of cancer from oral HPV infection.
The team investigated the prevalence of cancer-causing HPV found in oral rinses and the numbers of new cases of oropharyngeal squamous cell cancer (OSCC) – the commonest type of oropharyngeal cancer.
Researchers found that women who had one or no oral sex partners during their lifetimes had the lowest prevalence of oral infection with cancer-causing types of HPV: 1.8 per cent of smokers were infected and 0.5 per cent of non-smokers.
There are over 100 different kinds of HPV but only a few are known to cause cancer; infection with HPV 16 or 18 is already known to trigger most cervical cancer, and HPV16 also causes most oropharyngeal cancer.
“For these reasons, it would be useful to be able to identify healthy people who are most at risk of developing oropharyngeal cancer in order to inform potential screening strategies, if effective screening tests could be developed,” D’Souza said.