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A strong link between oral sex behaviours and throat cancer

Photo: Sexual behaviour linked to throat cancer
New research has found a strong association between oral sex behaviours and HPV-positive head and neck cancers in Australian patients.

A strong link between multiple oral sex partners and a higher risk of HPV-related head and neck cancers and has been established for the first time in Australian patients.

Researchers at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have been comparing the prevalence of human papillomavirus infections (HPV) among patients with oropharyngeal and oral cavity cancers, which have been on the rise in Australia.

A study of 136 patients recruited from the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane found 72 per cent of those with cancer of the oropharynx tested positive for HPV, compared to five per cent of those with oral cavity cancer.
A strong correlation was also found between HPV-positive tumours, sexual behaviour and marital status, according to the initial findings presented by investigator Dr Annika Antonsson at the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia's Annual Scientific Meeting in Sydney.

"We found a big difference in HPV prevalence between the different cancer patients and also a link here in Australia to oral sex, being male and ever being married, currently or previously," said Dr Antonsson.

Cancer of the head and neck remain the sixth most commonly occurring cancers world-wide. A significant proportion of these tumours are directly attributed to HPV.

There has also been a big change in the demographic of people developing oroparyngeal cancer and this is thought to be linked to the increasing rates of the sexually transmitted infection, explains Dr Antonsson.

"Previously those cancers have been caused by smoking now we see younger patients that are non-smokers and non-alcoholic drinkers."

The virologist says they have now established lifestyle and sexual behaviour risk factors that could be to blame for this change.

"Being male was one risk factor, 92 per cent of the HPV positive patients were males compared to 74 per cent of the HPV-negative (patients)," she said.

The research also showed 73 per cent of HPV positive partners had 16 or more passionate kissing partners, compared to 34 per cent of the HPV-negative patients.

Nearly all (90 per cent) of the HPV-positive patients had given oral sex in their lifetime.

In light of these findings, further research is needed to ensure the HPV vaccine used in Australia will reduce the transmission and carriage of oropharyngeal HPV infections.

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