Oral sex is driving up rates of cancer
Experts are warning that there is growing evidence that the increase in oral cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in the mouth is spread by oral sex.
Around one in four mouth cancers and one in three throat cancers are HPV-related, but in younger patients, most throat cancers are now HPV-related.
Anna Middleton, leading dental hygienist and founder of London Hygienist, says: “This isn’t something to just pretend isn’t happening.
“There are stark facts out there about the rise of mouth cancer, especially in young people, caused by HPV.
“People need to be aware of when engaging in sexual activity and take the right precautions.”
HPV does not need penetrative sex to spread from one person to another, it is passed between people through the skin to skin contact and sexual contact.
The signs of HPV and oral cancer
HPV has no immediate symptoms, so you may not even know if you have it and it is incredibly common.
In-fact, the majority of people will get some type of HPV in their life.
For women, HPV testing is part of cervical screening but there is no blood test for HPV.
If you are worried about oral cancer, here, Anna shares the warning signs and things to watch out for…
The 5 early warning signs
- Patches on your tongue
You may find some white or red patches inside your mouth or on your tongue and could be signs of oral cancer. If these patches last more than three weeks you should seek advice from your doctor or dentist. The patches are often painless and can easily be missed, so checking your mouth and tongue when brushing your teeth is vital as it will show you any sudden changes.
- Ulcers that don’t heal
Most people experience mouth ulcers at some point, this can be down to diet or poor dental hygiene and they can be painful. They usually clear up on their own or by using some mouth ulcer gel. If you find they do not clear up or get worse you need to seek advice from your doctor or dentist. It is worth noting that ulcers can form on your tongue, under your tongue, your inside cheeks, and gum line.
- A swelling in your mouth
If you find your mouth is swelling up with no clear reason such as a toothache it could be what you are mistaking as an abscess on your gum line is an HPV growth which can lead to cancer. Get checked out by your doctor or dentist as soon as possible.
- Pain when swallowing
At some point, we all suffer from sore throats, usually when we have a cold or a sinus infection. Although rare sore throats can be an indication of throat cancer and should be checked out as soon as possible, especially if these symptoms persist with no clear cause for the soreness.
- A lump in your throat
Otherwise known as ‘Globus pharyngeus’, it is the feeling of something stuck in your throat and nothing can clear it. Patients say they can feel something stuck and coughing doesn’t clear the sensation. Typically, cancer of the mouth and throat occurs in those who have risk factors such as smoking, alcohol or a history of HPV.
What is the HPV Virus?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted infection that affects at least half of sexually active people.
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 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 verruca 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.
These don’t tend to cause pain, but once discovered they 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.
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.
Catching cancer in the initial stages means you have the best possible chance of successful treatment.