• Dr Nathan Welch

Human Papilloma Virus and Oral & Pharyngeal Cancer

An article published in the journal 'Cancer' this week, conducted by John Hopkins University, has highlighted a significant link between the risk of having oral cancer caused by giving oral sex. Lots of the major news outlets have picked up on the story: Daily Mail, Sun, Medscape and Lad Bible being some of the quickest off the mark.

If you're thinking you have heard about the HPV (human papilloma virus) causing cancer before, you are not wrong, it is one of the major causes of Cervical Cancer.


The key findings in the Cancer journal article shows evidence that those people who have oral sex with more than 10 partners are over four times more likely to develop oral or pharyngeal cancer. The results also show that the younger you are giving oral sex also increases your risk (especially under 18), and also the older your partner is also plays a contributing part.


Previous studies have shown that men are up to four times more likely to develop oral and pharyngeal cancer related to HPV compared to their female counterparts.From my understanding there are a couple of reasons, men giving oral sex to women are more at risk as vaginal tissue can hold a higher concentration of the virus than penile tissue. However women are more likely to have have the HPV vaccine which was introduced in 2008 and offered to girls aged 12-13 that year. Men giving oral sex to other men are therefore extremely unlikely to come across a partner who has had the HPV vaccine as it only started to be offered to boys aged 12-13 last year in 2019! I would personally like to thank Jabs For The Boys for fighting for this legislation change.


Current statistics on the prevalence of oral and pharyngeal cancers are that:

1 in 4 mouth cancers are HPV related

1 in 3 throat cancers are HPV related

Most throat cancers in young people are HPV related


The NHS website has a very good article on the subject you should wish to read into it further.


As with Cervical Cancer, the HPV Vaccine should significantly lower your risk of developing Oral and Pharyngeal Cancers related to HPV. The vaccine is far more effective when given before having any sexual contact, so please consider it for all of your children aged 12-13, it has been offered to girls since 2008 and boys since 2019.


What can you do?

Reduce your number of sexual partners,

Use protection eg: condom or dental dam,

Consider not having oral sex until you are older


Of course HPV is not the only risk factor for oral and pharyngeal cancer, the main risk factors are still smoking and alcohol use. (More information in our previous mouth cancer awareness month blog post)


The following symptoms can be due to cancer or other conditions, so if you are displaying any it does not necessarily mean you have oral cancer:

  • A sore or ulcer that does not heal and/or bleeds easily.

  • A blood blister that does not heal

  • White or red patches anywhere in the mouth (leukoplakia and erythroplakia).

  • A thick or hard lump on the lip, tongue or in the mouth or throat, what may or may not be painful.

  • Unusual bleeding or numbness anywhere in the mouth.

  • Pain when chewing or swallowing.

  • A feeling that something is caught in the throat.

For more information here is the link to the NHS information page.


This year we are aware that a lot of patients have missed their regular check ups due to the COVID pandemic. Despite all the other things we assess as dentists, mouth cancers is the thing we worry about having missed the most! We are now open to do examinations again and taking on new patients.


If you haven't had a check-up recently then call us on 01446 771163 or contact us to book an appointment. We have a dedicated page on our website regarding oral and pharyngeal cancer here.



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