A few months ago, the famous actor Michael Douglas admitted that he suffered from oropharyngeal cancer in an advanced form – stage IV – (but with 80% survival chances), which has stirred much controversy in the media and the medical world in the U.S. However, everybody took this opportunity to draw attention to this disease. The main message released was that oral sex is dangerous because it can be a cause of oropharyngeal cancer.
From Cigarette And Alcohol to Sex and HPV
The physicians’ warning does not only concern the increasing rate oforopharyngeal cancer, but also the change of its pathological profile. In the past, doctors thought that the main causes of this type of cancer were smoking, alcohol, and their association in particular. Men over 50 were frequent patients. Anyway, in the last two decades, there has been a multiplication of tumors associated with HPV infection (human papilloma virus), and men around the age of 40 are at the highest risk even if they are not smokers or drinkers.
The conclusion is that, even if alcohol and cigarettes remain obvious triggers oforopharyngeal cancer, the incidence of these tumors attributed to smoking decreased mainly due to the attitude and measures against smoking in recent decades. However, in this period, oropharyngeal cancer associated with HPV infection has increased several times, especially in people between 40 and 50 years. The correlation between HPV infection and cancer is not new, this virus is clearly involved in the genesis of cervical cancer, vulvo-vaginal, anal and penile cancers, which makes these malignancies, despite the negative aura, to be among the few ones that can be prevented by early detection and contamination avoidance.
For instance, in developed countries, the Pap test significantly reduced the incidence of cervical cancer and the anti-HPV vaccine for girls is also promising. Lately the idea of administering this vaccine for boys as well has been often discussed in medical environments, because the vaccine protects regardless of the area where the infection is localized. HPV type 16 and HPV 18 are primarily involved in producing oropharyngeal cancer and they are both incriminated in the pathogenesis of cervical cancer.
Partners and Practices
The causes are, obviously, the increasing numbers of random sexual partners and changes in sex practices: the main focus is the oral sex, which is rarely considered “real sex”, and it also seems an easy way of contraception. Therefore, oral sex is practiced unprotected, which can lead to HPV and other serious infections: herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, hepatitis. For example, studies made in the USA have shown that half of adolescents are having oral sex (even if 10% -20% have not yet practiced vaginal sex). In the United Kingdom, 80% of the young people aged between 16 and 21 years, during their studies (thus considered more knowledgeable), do not use condoms during oral sex, although they usually use contraception during vaginal sex.
In conclusion, oral sex is not safer than vaginal sex. Even when condom or other type of contraception is used, there are still incidents that may occur during its incorrect use or and some diseases, like herpes or genital warts may be easily transmitted.