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This Sex Act Could Get You Cancer, Says New Study

Certain behaviors can make you over four times as likely to develop HPV-related cancer.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
A couple near the window, under one blue blanket

Human papillomavirus (HPV), which can infect the mouth and throat, is one of the biggest risk factors of oropharyngeal cancer. Previous studies have found that performing oral sex can increase your likelihood of contracting HPV as well as HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer. Now, a new study published online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, has concluded that certain oral sex habits can increase your chances of getting the cancer by over four times. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus

Those With More Partners Had a Greater Chance of HPV-Related Cancer

The study, which involved 163 individuals with and 345 without HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer, found that those with more than 10 prior oral sex partners had a 4.3-times greater likelihood of having HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer. 

They also found that other oral sex factors impacted the likelihood of cancer. Having oral sex at a younger age, more partners in a shorter time period (oral sex intensity), individuals who had older sexual partners when they were young, and those with partners who had extramarital sex were more likely to have HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer.

"Our study showed that relationship dynamics are independently associated with increased cancer risk; this is likely because these relationship aspects are surrogates of higher likelihood for exposure to HPV," lead author of the study, Virginia Drake, MD, Johns Hopkins Hospital Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, tells Eat This, Not That! Health. "Having an older sexual partner when a person is young, for example, may represent a relationship where the older partner is more likely to expose the younger partner to HPV, and thus this captures a measure of risk beyond that captured by number of partners alone. In the same way, the link we found with extramarital sex, suggests that couples that have extramarital sex are more likely to acquire oral HPV than those who are monogamous (as one would expect!)"

Dr. Drake also reveals another surprising finding of the study—the identification of nine study participants without cancer (controls), who have an antibody that is specific for HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer (E6). "While they do not have a diagnosis of cancer, research to date suggests these are markers that may indicate pre-cancer and may be an indicator of increased cancer risk," she explains.

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How to Avoid HPV and HPV-Related Cancers

The best way to avoid HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer is to prevent an HPV infection in the first place. "Like all STDs, risk of infection is related to exposure to new partners who may potentially carry HPV. Our study does not have direct clinical implications on prevention or screening, but helps patients and practitioners explain the question of, 'why did I develop oropharyngeal cancer?'" Dr. Drake tells us.  

One of the ways to prevent it is by getting the HPV vaccine, which is recommended by the CDC for boys and girls starting at age nine. "HPV infections and cervical precancers (abnormal cells on the cervix that can lead to cancer) have dropped significantly since the vaccine has been in use in the United States," they explain. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

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