Could oral sex be putting you at risk for cancer? Maybe, say experts. More and more healthy young people with no history of smoking or tobacco chewing are being diagnosed with oral cancer, and the cause -- human papillomavirus (HPV), likely linked to oral sex -- is surprising doctors.
Oral cancer has long been considered a disease of geriatric, long-term smokers or tobacco chewers, but this isn't really the case: Diagnoses of HPV-related oral cancer
among people in their 40s nearly doubled between 1973 and 2004, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. American Cancer Society statistics show that today, between 20 and 30 percent of all oral cancer cases are related to HPV
HPV (which can cause a cell disruption that leads to cancer) is transmitted through direct contact, and it doesn't travel through the bloodstream -- you only get it in the location it initially attaches to. So how does it get into your mouth? According to Dr. Ellen Rome
of the Clevelend Clinic, "There is absolutely a link between oral sex and oral cancer." General public perception doesn't appear to reflect this, though -- a 2005 University of California, San Francisco study found that teens believe oral sex is significantly safer than vaginal sex
So what does this mean for us? Basically, all those things we learned in junior high sex ed -- know your partner and use protection -- do
apply to oral sex. For more discussion on the HPV topic, check out the Lemondrop debate over controversial HPV vaccine Gardasil.