Author: Sofia Petkar
Men are four times more likely than women to be diagnosed with oral cancer, as studies suggest a lower immune system could be behind this. Research has found men who perform oral sex on their female partners have a higher than average chance of developing an oral cancer triggered by the human papilloma virus (HPV).
While sexual norms and fewer inhibitions have played a role in this alarming trend, scientists now say the male immune system is the real problem. Research has found that compared with women, men are more likely to be infected with HPV and its “high-risk” cancerous strains. Men are also less able to get rid of the infection through the body’s natural defences, harbouring the virus for longer periods of time.
Ashish A. Deshmukh, a University of Florida HPV researcher, said: “There is good evidence that men acquire oral infections more readily than women, even if they have similar sex practices.
“And more than the acquisition, it’s the persistence of the virus.
“The clearance rate is not that fast in men.”
Traditionally, smoking and heavy alcohol usage were seen as the big risk factors for oral cancer. However, studies have shown that non-HPV tumours linked to these bad habits has declined significantly in recent years. In stark contrast, HPV-related tumours have increased more than 300 per cent over the last 20 years, with the virus now found in 70 per cent of all new oral cancers.
In 2013, Michael Douglas hit the headlines when he blamed his throat cancer on oral sex. The 72-year-old actor said he believed his cancer was triggered by the HPV virus, which he says he contracted after performing oral sex.
While many ridiculed his theory, experts say there is growing evidence to support his claims. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted disease which affects at least half of people who are sexually active. The STD is the most widespread worldwide and four out of five of the population will contract some form of the virus at least once in their life.
The types of HPV found in the mouth are almost entirely sexually transmitted, so oral sex is seen as the primary route of contracting them. In most cases, the body’s immune system will fight off the virus and there won’t be any need for further tests, in fact, some people may not even know they contracted it at all.
The HPV infection affects the skin and mucosa (any moist membrane, such as the lining of the mouth and throat, the cervix and the anus).
Dentists have warned that dating apps such as Tinder are putting more people at risk of catching HPV passed on by oral sex. The British Dental Association said: “Data used to model sexual behaviour are out of date, and factors such as the recent introduction of dating apps may have led to significant changes in behaviour over the last few years, which have not been taken into account.”