Increase in oral cancer linked to virus transmitted through oral sex

Cancer of the mouth and throat is on the rise because of more cases stemming from a viral infection called human papillomavirus HPV, researchers reported in a new study. The number of people who were diagnosed with an HPV-related oral cancer in 2004 was triple the number of people who were diagnosed in 1988, due largely to an increase in participation of oral sex, researchers said.

HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that can, in some cases, cause cancer of the cervix, anus, mouth and penis.

Dr. Maura Gillison, at Ohio State University, and her research team examined oral cancer tissues collected from 271 patients over a 20-year period.

The study examined samples for evidence of the HPV infection and found the related cases became more and more common with the passing of time. While those that didn’t test positive for the virus became less and less common. The researchers now estimate that HPV-related cancers affect 26 in every one million Americans, compared to eight out of every million in 1988.

The current study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, said that HPV-positive cases, which made up 16 percent of oral cancer cases in the 1980s, now make up more than 70 percent.

“We used to think of oropharyngeal cancer as one cancer,” Gillison told CNN. “Now we know the disease is comprised of two biologically and epidemiologically distinct cancers. This new understanding will increasingly enable us to improve and better personalize care for patients with each form of the disease.”

Certain vaccines, including Gardasil and Cervarix, have been proven to prevent cervical cancer in women, but their use has not been approved for men.

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