Sexual Habits Can Influence Risk of Contracting HPV and Cancer

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) induced cancers is now considered to have a relation with the sexual behavior and orientation of a person.

A new research published in the American Cancer Society Journal shows that greater the number of sexual partners, greater is the chance of developing HPV induced cancers majorly oropharyngeal cancers.

HPV has been the leading cause of throat cancer in most areas of the world, especially the USA. People who are at risk of developing oral cancers through poor and unsafe practices do not necessarily develop it.

This means that the factors affecting vary from person to person and also vary depending on the sexual behaviours adopted. Some research was already conducted on the relation between HPV related oropharyngeal cancers (HPV-OPC) in the early 2000s. It only focused on the effect of having multiple sexual partners on the contraction of HPV induced cancer.

The new research not only experimented with the number of involved sexual partners but also took frequency, time and orientation of these practices into consideration. The age factor and ethnicity was also taken into account to see how the oropharyngeal cancer evolved through sexual practices in various groups and subgroups.

Almost 70% of the total oropharyngeal cancers are caused by HPV. About 35,000 new cases of HPV induced oropharyngeal cancers are found in men while 16,200 cases were found in women according to the data recorded by Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It is also found that the prevalence of HPV induced cancers vary with ethnicity. White people are more prone to getting such cancers as compared to people who are African-American, Hispanics, Asian Americans or Latin Alaskans.

Although there are many cancers induced by HPV which includes vaginal, cervical, penile, vulvar and ovarian cancers, the most common one is still the oropharyngeal cancer. This includes the throat cancer, cancer of the pharynx and the oral cavity. The cancer does not develop immediately after the infection with Human Papilloma Virus rather takes a few years to onset.

The study was conducted by taking 163 patients with HPV induced OPC compared with the control group which consisted of 345 cancer free patients. Patients were from the age 18 to 49 and almost 95% of these were older than 40 years. The researchers obtained blood samples from all the people from the experimental group.

People who had cancer were also requested to give in a sample of their tumor. These patients did not receive any HPV vaccine before this research was conducted. The patients were also requested to attempt a survey which collected the data on their sexual practices including the frequency, time, pattern, number of sexual partners and also analyzed other social behavior’s like the use of drugs.

The data concluded that the number of women who contracted the HPV induced cancers were more than men however, overall the number of men who got oropharyngeal cancer from Human Papillomavirus were much greater in number. Men were found to be at five times greater risk of developing HPV-OPC.

The senior author, Gypsyamber D’Souza, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins, says that, “There is some evidence that cunnilingus is more infective than fellatio. But that’s a surrogate for more nuanced behavior. Many patients have not engaged in high-risk sex behavior and are unlucky enough to still get this. It’s not just sexual partners, but the timing, the kind of practice, the nature of the partners and other factors, plus aspects of our own immunological response that are all involved in this.”

It was concluded that those patients who had oral sexual practices at the initial stages with their partners had 80% more chances of developing HPV-OPC. 77% of the patients were younger than 18 years old when they first did so. People who had extramarital affairs were more likely to have HPV induced cancers.

The lead author, Dr. Virginia E. Drake who is a resident physician at Johns Hopkins, said that, “If people get this infection, they’re going to ask, ‘Why me?’” she said. “How this information will change things clinically, we don’t know. But we can give patients a better understanding of the disease process and how someone gets it.”

She also added that, “It’s complex, more complex than just the number of sexual partners. We don’t have the exact answers on this, and we’re still figuring out the complete picture.”

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