Author: Sandhya Raghavan
In 2010, when actor Michael Douglas was diagnosed with throat cancer, he said something shocking about his condition. He revealed to a journalist that cunnilingus or oral sex was the reason why he got throat cancer. Quite naturally, his comments were met with disbelief and ridicule. But the only ones who weren’t laughing was the medical fraternity, who knew that there was a tremendous amount of truth in his statement. HPV or Human Papilloma Virus, one of the biggest risk factors for cancer, can be transmitted through an infected person’s genital fluids during oral sex. From here, it starts infecting the person’s oral and respiratory system, causing cancers of the mouth and neck in the long run.
What causes oral HPV?
Dr Gautam Bhansali, a consulting physician at Bombay Hospital, states, “Oral HPV is primarily spread through sexual contact and blood contact.” Unprotected vaginal, oral and anal sex, and open-mouthed kissing can cause the virus to proliferate. The risk factor is increased in people who have low immunity, like diabetics, smokers and those suffering from infectious diseases.
How to know if there is oral HPV residing in the body?
There is no way to find out because oral HPV is a sneaky virus. You may carry the virus for years and even transfer it to your partner without you knowing it. In most cases, the immune system sends the virus packing even before it sets shop in the body. But if it wins the war against your antibodies, it can increase the risk of cancers in the body.
When to see a doctor?
Oral HPV can develop into cancers of the oral cavity and the pharynx. Early symptoms include.
• Fever- “It is quite possible for a person infected with the oral HPV virus to have low-grade fevers,” says Dr Bhansali. Watch out for fevers that worsen during the evening hours.
• Trouble swallowing- If there is any obstruction in the throat while swallowing, immediately have it looked up.
• Mouth ulcers- Recurring mouth ulcers or lesions that refuse to go away can be indicators of cancer.
• Earache- “In severe cases, sometimes tumours press up against the Eustachian tube, causing earaches,” says Dr Bhansali.
• Hoarseness of voice- If tumours on one of the vocal cords end up paralysing it, the person’s voice can change to a great extent.
• Unexplained weight loss- With the immunity levels going down, someone with HPV infection may find his or her weight decreasing.
• Lump in the cheeks- “If the tumour starts developing on the parotid glands, lumps will be felt on the person’s cheeks,” reveals Dr Bhansali.
• Blood in cough – Coughing up blood is also an early symptom of oral HPV.
How can you prevent oral HPV?
Studies have proven that thorough oral hygiene can keep the virus at bay. “Following the correct oral hygiene routine is essential for preventing HPV infections. Brushing twice a day, flossing, cleaning the mouth and the genitals after sexual activity,” says Dr Bhansali. Know your sexual partner, use contraceptives and wear dental dams while performing oral sex on new sexual partners.