A new study claims that oral sex has prompted a large rise in a specific type of throat cancer called oropharyngeal cancer, which affects the area of the tonsils and back of the throat.
Oral sex is stoking an “epidemic” of throat cancer, which is now more common than cervical cancer in the US and the UK, experts say.
Dr Hisham Mehanna, from the UK’s University of Birmingham, said this was mainly caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which is also the main cause of cancer of the cervix.
Dr Mehanna said people with multiple oral sex partners were up almost nine times more likely to develop the cancer.
Writing in The Conversation, Dr Mehanna said: “Over the past two decades, there has been a rapid increase in throat cancer in the West, to the extent that some have called it an epidemic.
“This has been due to a large rise in a specific type of throat cancer called oropharyngeal cancer.”
Medical experts have pegged HPV infection to be the biggest risk factor for developing the disease.
Dr Mehanna continued: “HPV is sexually transmitted. For oropharyngeal cancer, the main risk factor is the number of lifetime sexual partners, especially oral sex.
“Those with six or more lifetime oral-sex partners are 8.5 times more likely to develop oropharyngeal cancer than those who do not practice oral sex.”
In the UK, 80 per cent of adults reported practising oral sex at some point in their lives, Dr Mehanna said.
Around 8,300 people are diagnosed with throat cancer each year in the UK, which is about 1 in every 50 cancers diagnosed, according to the NHS.
More than 2 in 3 cases of mouth cancer develop in adults over the age of 55. Only 1 in 8 (12.5 per cent) happens in people younger than 50.
Doctors say that oral sex is the biggest risk factor for developing the cancer — outstripping smoking, alcohol consumption, and an unhealthy diet.
Dr Mehanna explained that this could lead to an HPV infection at the back of the throat or near the tonsil. These infections go away on their own in most cases but sometimes can persist and cause cancer.
HPV is a common virus spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex with someone who is already infected.
There is a vaccine for HPV, which is more than 80 per cent effective and available in much of the developed world.
According to most recent government data, HPV vaccine coverage in England for girls completing a 2-dose HPV schedule by Year 9 is 67.3 per cent. In boys, 62.4 per cent are double vaccinated.