Can Oral Sex Cause Throat Cancer?

There are obvious benefits of practicing safe sex, like a lowered risk for sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy. However, you may be surprised to learn that some safe sex practices can help you to prevent throat cancer. While not commonly associated with any type of physical intimacy, recent studies have made a connection between the practice of oral sex and a rise in throat cancer diagnoses, according to Cleveland Clinic.

For many individuals, oral sex is often a precursor to sexual intercourse. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that more than 85% of adults who are sexually active have reported engaging in acts of oral sex with at least one other partner. Not surprisingly, 41% of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 also reported participating in oral sex acts with a partner. Though commonly viewed as the safer sex practice, oral sex can pose a number of safety risks when proper precautions are not taken.

Oral sex and sexually transmitted disease

Oral sex is a practice where the mouth and tongue are used to stimulate the genitals. The National Health Service states that one of the most common ways individuals contract sexually transmitted diseases is through oral sex. The CDC explains that there are a number of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can be communicated between partners during oral sex. Furthermore, it is possible to contract STDs and STIs through the mouth when the infected individual has the issue on their genitals and vice versa. In addition, some forms of oral sex, such as oral sex involving the anus, can also be a source for contracting hepatitis A, hepatitis B, parasites like Giardia, and bacterial infections such as E. Coli.

Among the list of diseases and infections that can be transmitted through oral sex, new research shows that there are new concerns regarding human papillomavirus virus (HPV) and throat cancer.

How can HPV lead to throat cancer?

The CDC explains that HPV is one of the most commonly transmitted infections. There are more than 100 types of HPV, and of those, at least 40 can be transmitted through sexual contact with another person. This includes HPV transmission through oral sex. The CDC reports that nearly 10% of men and 3.6% of women have contracted oral HPV. Though most strains of oral HPV will resolve over time, others have been known to be more persistent. New research suggests that one of these strains, HPV 16, has a direct connection to oropharyngeal cancer, or throat cancer. Approximately 1% of individuals who have HPV will have this specific strain (via Cleveland Clinic).

Cleveland Clinic explains that 18,000 cases of throat cancer diagnosed each year are directly related to HPV infection. Though both men and women can be affected by HPV 16, women show more resistance and less occurrence of developing throat cancer. Factors like smoking and drinking alcohol can increase the likelihood of developing HPV 16.