Having lots of oral sex at a young age could increase your risk of developing HPV-related mouth and throat cancer, study warns

  • Infection of the mouth and throat by HPV can lead to oropharyngeal cancer
  • Researchers from the US polled 508 people about their health and sexual habits
  • Those with 10 oral sex partners are 4.3 times more likely to get throat cancer
  • The risk is also increased by having extramarital sex, the experts warned

The risk of developing Human papillomavirus (HPV) -related mouth and throat cancer is increased by having lots of oral sex at a young age, a study has warned.

Researchers from the US polled more than 500 people about their sexual practices — including 163 people who suffered from so-called oropharyngeal cancer.

The oropharynx is the name given to the middle part of the throat, behind the mouth, and includes the back third of the tongue, the tonsils and the soft palate.

The team found that having 10 or more oral sex partners increases your risk of oropharyngeal cancer by 4.3 times.

The work builds on previous studies that have linked performing oral sex with HPV-related cancer — which is triggered by the virus infecting the mouth and throat.

The risk of developing Human papillomavirus (HPV) -related mouth and throat cancer is increased by having lots of oral sex at a young age, a study has warned

‘It is not only the number of oral sexual partners, but also other factors not previously appreciated that contribute to the risk of exposure to HPV orally and subsequent HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer,’ said paper author Virginia Drake. 

‘As the incidence of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer continues to rise in the United States, our study offers a contemporary evaluation of risk factors for this disease,’ the Johns Hopkins University otolaryngologist added.

We have uncovered additional nuances of how and why some people may develop this cancer, which may help identify those at greater risk.’

In their study, Dr Drake and colleagues polled 508 people — including 163 with HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer — about their oral sex behaviours.

The team found that having 10 or more oral sex partners was associated with and 4.3-fold increase in the likelihood of developing HPV-related mouth or throat cancer.

Furthermore, higher levels of cancer risk were also associated with performing oral sex with many different partners in a short period of time, as well as having oral sex at a younger age.

Alongside the role played by the timing and frequency of oral sex, the team also found that individuals who had older sexual partners in their youth were at a greater risk of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer.

Similarly, the cancer risk was found to be higher among those individuals who had extramarital sex.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Cancer.


Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, is where a tumour develops in the lining of the mouth. 

It may be on the surface of the tongue, the insides of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth (palate), or the lips or gums.

Tumours can also develop in the glands that produce saliva, the tonsils at the back of the mouth, and the part of the throat connecting your mouth to your windpipe (pharynx). However, these are less common. 

Symptoms of mouth cancer include:

  • sore mouth ulcers that don’t heal within several weeks
  • unexplained, persistent lumps in the mouth that don’t go away
  • unexplained, persistent lumps in the neck that don’t go away
  • unexplained looseness of teeth, or sockets that don’t heal after extractions
  • unexplained, persistent numbness or an odd feeling on the lip or tongue
  • sometimes, white or red patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue – these can be early signs of cancer, so they should also be investigated
  • changes in speech, such as a lisp

See your GP or dentist if these symptoms don’t heal within three weeks, particularly if you drink or smoke heavily.

Source: NHS

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