Oral sex is driving increases in HPV-related head and neck cancers in men

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In recent years, a concerning trend has emerged in the realm of public health: a significant rise in head and neck cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) among men. This increase is linked to changes in sexual behaviours, notably the rise in oral sex, which has facilitated the spread of HPV. Despite the availability of vaccines, the incidence of these cancers continues to grow, raising alarm among medical professionals and researchers alike.

The surge in HPV-linked head and neck cancers

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a well-known cause of various cancers, including cervical, anal, and oropharyngeal cancers. Oropharyngeal cancers, which affect the middle part of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils, have seen a sharp increase, particularly among men. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 15,000 men in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancers caused by HPV each year, with 80% of oropharyngeal cancers now attributed to this virus.

This trend is not limited to the United States. Countries such as Brazil, Australia, the UK, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and China are also experiencing a rise in HPV-related head and neck cancers. The increase is particularly notable among younger men, who are more likely to engage in oral sex, a significant risk factor for HPV transmission. Studies, including a 2014 publication in the journal PLOS ONE, indicate that younger generations are more likely to engage in oral sex compared to older cohorts, influenced partly by the proliferation of online pornography.

Oral sex is driving increases in HPV-related head and neck cancers in men | News by Thaiger
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The role of oral sex and HPV

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, and its connection to oropharyngeal cancers underscores the changing patterns of sexual behaviour. The CDC reports that among individuals aged 15 to 24, 78% engage in oral sex, with the figure rising to over 89% among 23 and 24-year-olds.

For homosexual males, the rates are even higher, approaching 100% for both age groups. This shift towards more prevalent and diverse sexual behaviours has been accompanied by an increase in HPV transmission and, consequently, related cancers.

Despite the introduction of the HPV vaccine in 2006, which was initially targeted at young women and later extended to young men, the incidence of HPV-related cancers continues to rise. The vaccine is highly effective in preventing infections with the most common cancer-causing HPV types. However, vaccination rates remain insufficient to curb the increasing trend of these cancers. The CDC estimates that around 81 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, with 15 million new infections occurring annually.

HPV infections often resolve on their own without causing long-term health problems. However, persistent infections with high-risk HPV types can lead to cancer. The American Cancer Society notes that between 2015 and 2019, the number of people diagnosed with HPV-linked oropharyngeal cancer increased by 1.3% in women and 2.8% in men annually.

Symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment

HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers present symptoms that differ from those caused by tobacco and alcohol use, historically the primary risk factors for head and neck cancers. Symptoms include a persistent sore throat, hoarseness, enlarged lymph nodes, pain when swallowing, earaches, and unexplained weight loss. These symptoms often lead to initial misdiagnoses, delaying appropriate treatment.

Routine check-ups with primary care physicians and dentists can aid in early detection. Treatment options for head and neck cancers include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. For HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancers, recent research suggests that less intense treatment can yield favourable outcomes due to the typically better prognosis for these patients compared to those with HPV-negative tumours.

Oral sex is driving increases in HPV-related head and neck cancers in men | News by Thaiger
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Rehabilitation post-treatment may involve physical therapy, dietary counselling, speech therapy, and potentially reconstructive and plastic surgery. Despite these measures, treatment can significantly impact patients’ quality of life, affecting their ability to chew, swallow, or speak, and sometimes altering their appearance.

The rise in HPV-related head and neck cancers among men is a pressing public health issue driven by evolving sexual behaviours. While vaccines offer a powerful tool for prevention, broader education and higher vaccination rates are crucial to reversing this trend. Awareness of the symptoms and regular medical check-ups can facilitate early diagnosis and improve treatment outcomes. As medical science continues to evolve, understanding the factors contributing to this rise and implementing effective preventive measures will be key to addressing this growing health challenge.

While many are under the fallacy that there are no known tests for HPV for men based on the available information online, there are actually new PCR test platforms and specimen collection methods that are now available via a company called Sansure that supplies to various hospitals.

If you are a naughty promiscuous male, often indulging in oral sex with partners that you are unaware could possibly be infected with HPV and are worried after reading this article, schedule a discreet health screening with MyMediTravel.

MyMediTravel offers exclusive health screening services with leading STI/HPV specialists and also experienced oncologists. Remember, determining that you are infected with HPV at early stages, can help save a lot of future agony and money

HealthThailand News

Dr. Nikhil Prasad

Dr. Nikhil Prasad is an independent researcher, medical, pharma and health PR consultant, herbalists and phytochemical specialists and a medical and health writer for numerous international publications and sites including his own sites such as Thailand Medical News. He is based either at Sydney, New York, Shanghai, Mumbai or Bangkok.

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