home
RSS
February 20th, 2011
02:04 PM ET

Yes, oral sex is sex, and it can boost cancer risk

Here's a crucial message for teens: Oral sex carries many of the same risks as vaginal sex, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of oral cancers in America in people under age 50.

"Adolescents don’t think oral sex is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 'sex.'"

Halpern-Felsher and other researchers presented the latest information about the risks of contracting an HPV infection Sunday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting.

The latest data suggest that 64% of oropharynx cancers - growing in the middle part of the throat - in the United States are caused by HPV, which is more than tobacco causes, said Maura Gillison of Ohio State University. And as the number of partners on whom you have performed oral sex goes up, the risk of oropharnyx cancer goes up.

About 37,000 people per year receive a diagnosis of  oral cancer, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation.

Just about everyone has had at least one of the 130 strains of HPV. The vaccines currently available, Gardasil and Cervarix, only protect against a few of them. But not all of the strains are cancer-causing. Certain types cause warts on the hands and feet that are benign.

About 5% of cancers worldwide are caused by HPV, and some turn up in some surprising places. A University of Washington study found that some men carry HPV 26 under their fingernails, which can lead to a form of cancer called digital squamous cell carcinoma. Proper hand-washing can help prevent this from happening, said Dr. Diane Harper, leading HPV researcher at the University of Missouri in Kansas City.

But this isn't nearly as common as HPV causing cancer in other areas of the body, such as the oral cavity and the cervix.

In the countries that have cervical cancer screening, the prevalence of cervical cancer is five times lower than in other countries, indicating that the testing is effective, Harper said.

Why HPV causes cancer in some people and not others is still mysterious. Studies of the cervix have found that 70% of infections resolve by themselves within one year, and 90% within two years. It's that remaining 10% that actually turn into more serious infections, and 5% lead to treatable precancerous lesions, Harper said.

Two well-established mechanisms of prevention in terms of sexually transmitted HPV are condom usage and circumcision, although neither completely eliminates the risk, Harper said.

A large ongoing study called HITCH is examining questions of HPV transmission and infection in greater detail. So far, it's found that couples can "ping-pong" HPV back and forth to each other, which is one reason  that the virus may take so long to clear naturally.

As for getting HPV from kissing, that's not clear, and there isn't enough data to say anything about it yet, Harper said.

It's very hard to get teens to listen to abstinence messages about oral sex, or to get them to use any kind of barrier method for these behaviors, Halpern-Felsher said. And since any risk factor under 50% sounds low to a very young person, throwing these precise statistics at them most likely won't make a difference.

But parents should have honest conversations with their teenagers about oral sex, Halpern-Felsher said. Tell them that the consequences of HPV may not happen right away, and while the risks may not be huge, they are significant. Potential long-term outcomes of cancer are quite concerning.


soundoff (356 Responses)
  1. Mia

    One more reason to remain monogamous.........

    February 20, 2011 at 15:34 | Report abuse |
  2. AC

    I want PALIN to comment on this first, before I believe it.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:34 | Report abuse |
    • mudleoftheroad

      touche

      February 20, 2011 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
    • thersa

      It's just a matter of time.

      February 20, 2011 at 16:54 | Report abuse |
  3. P. Wrinkle

    I love to shake my booty and I don't think HPV is under my fingernails. I bite my nails. I love the taste. When I dance the wind blows on my face and I can taste the vanilla in the air.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:34 | Report abuse |
  4. Bobby Cole

    LOL

    February 20, 2011 at 15:34 | Report abuse |
  5. BirrCrinton

    You women need to visit a cervix station more often to have your fluids changed!

    February 20, 2011 at 15:34 | Report abuse |
  6. Magic

    Okay kids. Stop doing the "nasty" or you'll get cancer. Give me break. Getting an abortion causes cancer. Giving birth causes cancer. Voting Democrat causes cancer. Voting Republican causes cancer. Listening to Beck/Limbaugh or Maddow/Mathews causes cancer. If you support Obamacare, you'll get cancer. If you want to repeal health care, you'll get it. It's all a lot of bull. Oh, one final thing, if you think getting cancer is a lot of bull – you'll get cancer.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:35 | Report abuse |
    • karl

      if you read anything magic types, you will get anal cancer.

      February 20, 2011 at 15:38 | Report abuse |
  7. Tara

    Hairspray can most likely cause cancer.... doesn't mean I am gonna stop using it.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
  8. Brian

    Doesn't it seem like everything is bad for you anymore? Drinking too much water can kill you too. Just another item to add to our long list of worries.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Umm yeah...didn't you know. The world is not just not as safe as people think.

      Oh, and the Earth is a balance. I know we as humans are trying as hard as we can to throw everything out of balance, but we will see more and more disease and cancer if the human population continues to out pace everything else on this planet. The #1 threat to the Earth is humans.

      February 20, 2011 at 18:01 | Report abuse |
  9. mudleoftheroad

    this bl0wz

    February 20, 2011 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
  10. Brian

    oops

    February 20, 2011 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
  11. david adkins

    Someone is jealous so spit out control fear

    February 20, 2011 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
  12. Lou50

    actually Monica needs to have Hillary tested. Bill I am sure is just an innocent middle man so to speak.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:38 | Report abuse |
  13. mudleoftheroad

    anyone who is a top is really relieved at this point

    February 20, 2011 at 15:38 | Report abuse |
  14. Teddy

    Does this include self indulgence cause I wasted a lot of money on flexibility classes.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:39 | Report abuse |
  15. Dr. Hugo

    "Bj: when there is such a ridiculous article and study like this, than yes, jokes are very warrantied"

    You are wrong BJ, this article is not ridiculous at all! Ask Michael Douglas what he thinks of your jokes.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:40 | Report abuse |
    • Marlye

      Micheal Douglas was a heavy smoker and boozer and that was more likely the reason he battled Oropharyngeal Cancer.

      February 20, 2011 at 16:25 | Report abuse |
  16. kishore

    hopefully, pleasuring yourself doesn't result in cancer. i am dreading that day.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:41 | Report abuse |
  17. SP

    Nonsense, what a stupid study, certainly paid by some stupid church

    February 20, 2011 at 15:42 | Report abuse |
  18. Tara

    @Dr. Hugo, are you saying Catherine Zeta Jones has an STD?

    February 20, 2011 at 15:42 | Report abuse |
    • Teddy

      Dr. Hugo, do HUGO down.

      February 20, 2011 at 15:44 | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Hugo

      No, I am not saying that. Michael Douglas used to be a "womanizer" before his marriage with Catherine and was well known for his hedonistic lifestyle...and smoked too.

      February 20, 2011 at 15:54 | Report abuse |
    • Tara

      @Dr. Hugo, the article does say that about 5% of cancers are caused by HPV and that stat is diluted by location of the cancer. Cervical, oral, and apparently finger cancer. So using only the 3 locations of cancer stated in this article, my (and Michael Douglas's) chances of getting oral cancer from getting/recieving a BJ are somewhere around 1.67%. I'm sure Michael has gambled worst odds, I know I have, and I am 99.33% positive that his cancer had another origin. Making this article semi-ridiculous.

      February 20, 2011 at 16:13 | Report abuse |
    • Tara

      *worse

      February 20, 2011 at 16:15 | Report abuse |
  19. Dan

    I don't think this would stop my girlfriend but I won't tell her anyway.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:45 | Report abuse |
  20. mdiver

    You are what you eat.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:46 | Report abuse |
  21. HandsomeCajun

    Why would Clinton need to know? Shouldn't Monica be the one that needs to know? Please take your politics elsewhere.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:46 | Report abuse |
  22. jdoe

    I think this issues is overblown, so to speak.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
  23. Steve P

    I think most (some) of the jokes are pretty funny, but I must ask...in what way is this study ridiculous?

    February 20, 2011 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
  24. MS

    Sounds like there are some scientists who aren't getting any

    February 20, 2011 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
  25. Ghyslaine

    WOOHOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Off the hook. 😉

    February 20, 2011 at 15:48 | Report abuse |
  26. Richard

    You are a twit.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
  27. Jose Gonzalez

    "Headline News": New Study Finds That Those Who Are Alive Have A Significant Higher Risk Of Getting Cancer!

    February 20, 2011 at 15:51 | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      lol....great point

      February 20, 2011 at 17:57 | Report abuse |
  28. Vacuum Mouth

    This article sucks!

    February 20, 2011 at 15:51 | Report abuse |
  29. Luxferrer

    Rob: Don't worry about your date next weekend dude. I'm sure your guy friend will not have read this article so you'll still be able to smoke his pole.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:51 | Report abuse |
  30. areuserious

    My poor husband! haha

    February 20, 2011 at 15:52 | Report abuse |
  31. Luxferrer

    areuserious: Maybe you'll finally let your husband play your B-side now as an alternative.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:54 | Report abuse |
  32. citizentobe

    Cathy! Don't call Bill, stupid, but Monica!

    February 20, 2011 at 15:55 | Report abuse |
  33. Laura

    Cancer is no joke and I will keep fingers crossed I dont get it. I wonder if the Oldest man in the world that lives
    right here in my home town worries about cancer. I think not as he is 114 yrs old. His name is Walter B.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:56 | Report abuse |
    • Stuff of Life

      You should go get some of his "essence!" He'd probably appreciate the attention and you could live to be 114 like him.

      February 20, 2011 at 16:29 | Report abuse |
  34. focusman

    Wait! what about HJ's?

    Are we seeing an increase in hand tumors???

    February 20, 2011 at 15:56 | Report abuse |
  35. vaterpop

    Does it count if you do it on yourself?

    February 20, 2011 at 15:56 | Report abuse |
  36. Kingofthenet

    It is my girlfriends primary source of Protein, she is a vegetarian.

    February 20, 2011 at 15:57 | Report abuse |
  37. fu9l

    lmfAO that was good cathy

    February 20, 2011 at 15:57 | Report abuse |
  38. Luxferrer

    Justin Bieber needs to be warned because that kid looks like he loves him some human sausage

    February 20, 2011 at 15:58 | Report abuse |
    • cReamyg00dnesS

      im sure he always uses protection 🙂

      February 20, 2011 at 18:07 | Report abuse |
  39. vaterpop

    This article leaves a bad taste in my mouth!

    February 20, 2011 at 15:59 | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      A diet of bad information will do that.

      February 20, 2011 at 18:03 | Report abuse |
  40. Yougotwhatyouwanted

    More media hype on a medical subject. One they have no expertise in. They toss up one studies results and scare the public. CNN do your job please. Research the subject and the study results with professionals, before you proclaim the sky is falling. And that doesn't include Gupta. He's a neurosurgeon and not a research oncologist. I also find the timing of this study to be suspect. The HPV vaccine manufacturers have just claimed the HPV vaccine works on males too. Isn't that convenient?

    February 20, 2011 at 16:00 | Report abuse |
  41. Luxferrer

    Dan: I agree 100%; it will not stop your girlfriend from hooking any of us up

    February 20, 2011 at 16:00 | Report abuse |
  42. wifey32

    women everywhere are currently rejoicing!!!

    February 20, 2011 at 16:00 | Report abuse |
    • girl who likes to smoke (not cigs)

      i'm not rejoicing! this only means that it's not safe for your man to do the thing to you. why would you rejoice about that? i love pleasing my man, and he loves pleasing me, this study will not stop us from doing the things that make us happy.

      February 20, 2011 at 16:32 | Report abuse |
    • goss

      Why would you rejoice??? I feel bad for your husband.

      February 20, 2011 at 16:37 | Report abuse |
  43. c small

    Well; the truth s an offense; tke it r lve it. U live by the sworD; u'll Die by the sworD. Viva ORAL

    February 20, 2011 at 16:00 | Report abuse |
  44. So tell us

    Just cut to the chase and tell us what various articles are slowing leading up to – virtually everything causes cancer.

    February 20, 2011 at 16:01 | Report abuse |
  45. Kingofthenet

    I also heard AIDS is caused by Botulism, you know bad meat in the can.

    February 20, 2011 at 16:02 | Report abuse |
  46. Wzrd1

    Actually, the article, while poorly written, IS accurate. HPV infection HAS been linked to oral cancer. And I've NEVER found cancer something funny or joke worthy.
    Two commonly STD's are HPV and XMRV.

    February 20, 2011 at 16:02 | Report abuse |
  47. Luxferrer

    wifey32: Not really; now women are going to have to watch out for their behinds more because of this.

    February 20, 2011 at 16:02 | Report abuse |
  48. me

    can be funny if used in the right context...like this

    February 20, 2011 at 16:05 | Report abuse |
  49. BP

    Is it still safe to suck on her pretty toes?

    February 20, 2011 at 16:06 | Report abuse |
    • Dick Morris

      No, just the cute ones.

      February 20, 2011 at 16:32 | Report abuse |
  50. BP

    Is it still safe to suck on her cute toes?

    February 20, 2011 at 16:06 | Report abuse |
    • Dick Morris

      No, just the pretty ones.

      February 20, 2011 at 16:30 | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6
Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.