Here’s a crucial message for teens: Oral sex carries many of the same risks as vaginal sex, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of oral cancers in America in people under age 50.
“Adolescents don’t think oral sex is something to worry about,” said Dr. Halpern-Felsher at the University of California, San Francisco. “They view it as a way to have intimacy without having “sex.” This reinforces the importance of education of our youth regarding all aspects of sexual behavior. This is also an important reason we, at Gentle Dental Care in Plainville, CT, routinely perform oral cancer screening for all of our patients.
Researchers presented the latest information about the risks of contracting an HPV infection recently at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting.
The latest data suggest that 64% of oropharynx cancers (a form of mouth cancer) – growing in the middle part of the throat – in the United States are caused by HPV, which is more than tobacco causes. And as the number of partners on whom you have performed oral sex goes up, the risk of oropharnyx (mouth) cancer goes up.
About 37,000 people per year receive a diagnosis of oral cancer, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Dr. Thomas Peltzer reports that dentists are the primary health care professionals to routinely provide early detection of mouth cancer. “We have detected several cases of oral cancer over the last ten years and have made the appropriate referrals to specific medical professionals to help these patients”
states Thomas Peltzer, DMD.
Just about everyone has had at least one of the 130 strains of HPV. The vaccines currently available, Gardasil and Cervarix, only protect against a few of them. But fortunately not all of the HPV strains are cancer-causing.
About 5% of cancers worldwide are caused by HPV, and some turn up in some surprising places. Cancer of the oral cavity and cervix are are much more common areas for HPV cancer formation however, states Thomas Peltzer, DMD who practices in his Central CT Dental Group practice.
Dentists have effective new technologies to perform early screening for oral cancer with a simple but highly effective device known as a VELscope.
Why HPV causes cancer in some people and not others is still a mystery. Studies of HPV induced lesions have found that 70% of infections resolve by themselves within one year, and 90% within two years. It’s that remaining 10% that actually turn into more serious problems, and 5% lead to treatable precancerous lesions “if detected early enough”
states Dr. Thomas Peltzer, Connecticut’s premier sedation dentist.
Two well-established mechanisms of prevention in terms of sexually transmitted HPV are condom usage and circumcision, although neither completely eliminates the risk, according to researchers at the AAAS.
As for getting HPV from kissing, the research is still incomplete, although this mode of transmission of HPV seems likely.
It’s very hard to get teens to listen to abstinence messages about oral sex, or to get them to use any kind of barrier method for these behaviors. Since any risk factor under 50% sounds low to a very young person, explaining these statistics to them is not likely to be an effective deterrent.
But parents should have open conversations with their teenagers about the well proven risks of oral sex, according to Thomas Peltzer, DMD. “Tell them that the consequences of HPV may not happen right away, and while the risks may not be huge, they are significant.” Potential long-term outcomes of oral cancer are very concerning and can be severely debilitating if dentists such as Dr. Peltzer are not able to detect them early enough.
This video, courtesy of the Oral Cancer Foundation, is an excellent means of educating our young about the risks of HPV transmission and oral cancer:
New England Journal of Medicine http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/17/4/805.long