HAVING lots of oral sex at a young age can increase the risk of mouth cancer, experts have warned.
People who have had ten or more oral sex partners were found to be 4.3 times more likely to develop the disease, research showed.
Researchers also found the risk of human papillomavirus (HPV)-related mouth and throat cancer be higher among those who had lots of oral sex with different partners at a young age.
The team, from Johns Hopkins University in the US, asked 508 people about to divulge details about their oral sex lives and general health.
These included 163 people with oropharyngeal cancer – which affects the middle part of the throat, including the back of the tongue, the tonsils and the soft palate.
Experts have previously warned that men are up to four times more likely to develop HPV-related cancers linked to having oral sex than women.
The aim of the most recent study was to build on previous research in both men and women, the team said.
KNOW THE RISK
Otolaryngologist Virginia Drake, who authored the paper, said: "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.
"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.
"We have uncovered additional nuances of how and why some people may develop this cancer, which may help identify those at greater risk."
The findings, published in the journal Cancer, revealed that having 10 or more oral sex partners was linked with an 4.3-fold increase in the likelihood of developing HPV-related mouth or throat cancer.
Worried about oral cancer? The 5 warning signs and things to watch out for…
Currently around one in four mouth cancers and a third of all throat cancers are HPV related, but in younger patients most throat cancers are now HPV related.
Here, Anna Middleton, award-winning dental therapist and founder of London Hygienist, talks us through the five signs to look out for…
1. Red, white or red and white, patches on your tongue or the lining of your mouth
“A white or red patch inside of your mouth or on your tongue could be a potential sign of oral cancer.
"If these patches last more than three weeks you should see your dentist.
"These patches often are painless and can easily go undetected often they are harmless but can equally be precancerous.
"If you spot any of these patches and your dentist or hygienist is concerned they will refer you to a specialist.
"White patches inside your mouth or lips, can be caused by servals things such as a rough tooth, denture tobacco and chewing the inside of your cheek.
"If you’re worried about any discolouration, speak to your dentist or dental hygienist who can take a look and put your mind at ease.”
2. Ulcers that do not heal after 3 weeks
“Mouth ulcers are painful sores that appear in the mouth.
"Although they are very sore and can cause discomfort, they usually clear up on their own within a week or so.
"They are usually round or oval sores that appear in the mouth on the cheeks, lips, or tongue.
"In terms of colour, they can be red, yellow, or grey and often swollen.
"It is usually safe to treat mouth ulcers at home. However if your mouth ulcer keeps getting worse, or has not got better after more than 3 weeks, it could be a sign of oral cancer.
"Ulcers caused by mouth cancer tend to appear on or under the tongue, but you can get them in other areas of your mouth.
"If you’re concerned speak to your GP, pharmacist or dentist.
3. A swelling in your mouth that lasts for more than 3 weeks
“Your mouth has many different bumps and shapes, but if you notice a swelling which has been there for more than 3 weeks it is worth getting it checked out.
"One of the most common causes of swelling in the mouth is a an injury or trauma such as eating hard food or burn from hot food or drink.
"Dehydration can often cause swelling as well due to a dry mouth, this can be caused by excessive alcohol consumption, medications, illness or simply not drinking enough water.
"Human Papillomavirus can also cause growths in your mouth. These don’t tend to cause pain, but once discovered need to be treated and removed so that they don’t lead to oral cancer.
"The general rule is that if something seems abnormal lasts more than 3 weeks, seek medical attention.”
4. Pain when swallowing
“There are many causes for pain when swelling and most of the time this is associated with an infection such as a sore throat, cold, or sinus infection.
"Other causes are things like strep throat, herpes or other bacterial infections.
"However, although rare, pain when swelling can be a symptom of throat, or oral cancer.
"If you have had this symptom for a while, or you’re starting to eat softer food, consult your doctor/dental professional.”
5. A feeling as though something's stuck in your throat
“Otherwise known as 'globus pharyngeus', it is the feeling when you’re unable to remove a lump in your throat, or it feels like something is stuck there but there is no actual obstruction.
"One common cause is acid reflux, but this needs to be confirmed. Typically, cancer of the mouth and throat occurs in those who have risk factors such as smoking, alcohol or a history of HPV.
"So, if you know you have one of the associated risk factors and have a sore in your mouth that won’t heal, a sensation of something in your throat that won’t go away, fevers or night sweats, or weight loss then seek medical advice.”
The highest risk was associated with those who had performed oral sex on several different people in a short period of time, according to Dr Drake's team.
Age was another factor that could increase the chances of developing the disease.
The researchers also found that those who had older sexual partners in their youth were at higher risk of HPV-related cancer.
People who had extramarital sex were also found to be at an increased risk of developing the disease.
Anna Middleton, founder of London Hygienist, has previously warned about the increasing rise HPV being linked to oral cancer in young people.
She said: “This research is incredibly concerning, but one which does not come as a surprise, there have been increasing cases linking HPV to oral cancer in young people in recent years, so much so it could supersede alcohol and smoking as a risk associated with oral cancer.
"Currently around one in four mouth cancers and a third of all throat cancers are HPV related, but in younger patients most throat cancers are now HPV related.
“This risk factor should urge patients to visit their dental practice routinely for oral cancer screening.
What is the HPV virus?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted infection which affects at least half of people who are sexually active.
The STI is the most widespread worldwide and four out of five of the population will contract some form of the virus at least once in their life.
In most cases, the body's immune system will fight off the virus and there won't be any need for extra tests, in fact, some people may not even know they contracted it at all.
The HPV infection affects the skin and mucosa (any moist membrane, such as the lining of the mouth and throat, the cervix and the anus).
And different types impact different parts of the body, causing lesions e.g. HPV types 1 and 2 cause verrucas on the feet.
Out of the 100 identified types of HPV, around 40 of them affect the genital areas of men and women, and of these roughly 20 are associated with the development of cancer.
Dentists have warned that dating apps such as Tinder are putting more people at risk of catching HPV passed on by oral sex.
"People need to be aware when engaging with sexual activity and take the right precautions.
"If you’re worried about HPV ensure you consult your GP and continue to see your dentist, dental, hygienist or therapist on a regular basis, practices are still open.
"Whatever you do, do not ignore any symptoms that’s lasts more than three weeks and if you are worried about coming to clinic due to Covid-19, we can triage patients over the video or phone call.”
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