Men are four times more likely to get throat and mouth cancer from oral sex than women, according to researchers. The cause is the human papillomavirus (HPV), and middle-aged men are most at risk.
Contributing to this statistic are men’s growing desire to sexually please the women in their lives, but the main culprit appears to be the male immune system.
According to Dr. Ashish Deshmukh from the University of Florida, men infected with HPV have a difficult time getting rid of the virus using the body’s natural defences. Men are also more susceptible to HPV’s “high risk” cancerous strains.
Deshmukh explained: “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.”
Big risk factors for oral cancer used to be smoking and the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol. However, tumours connected to lighting up and drinking have dropped over the past few years. HPV-related tumours, on the other hand, have risen a staggering 300 percent over the last 20 years. These days, HPV is present in 70 percent of all new oral cancers.
Actor Michael Douglas, 73, stunned fans in 2013 when he revealed his throat cancer was caused by HPV that he contracted through oral sex. “We are living through an HPV epidemic,” Dr. Dennis Kraus, director of the Center for Head and Neck Oncology at North Shore- LIJ Cancer Institute in Lake Success, N.Y., said at the time. “We used to think of throat and neck cancer as a disease of smokers and drinkers,” he added, noting that demographics have changed and throat cancer is increasingly becoming a sexually contracted disease.
About 50 percent of sexually active people have HPV. Four out of five people will contract some form of the virus at least once in their lives. There are no symptoms of HPV, so it is easy to pass from one person to another. It usually goes away on its own. Children can receive a vaccine to prevent HPV.
The British Dental Association recently warned people who use dating apps that the risk of contracting HPV through oral sex is rising.
The CDC has a few recommendations for performing safe oral sex, including using a dental dam.