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Can You Get Cancer From Oral Sex?

Posted in Sexual Health 16 Mar, 2015

With mouth cancer taking more lives each year than testicular and cervical cancers combined, it's clear that we need to be talking about this condition more. The main causes of head and neck cancers are smoking, excessive drinking, poor diet and HPV (human papillomavirus), which is usually transmitted during oral sex. With cases of HPV rising, particularly among young people, experts are predicting that it could overtake smoking and alcohol as the main cause of mouth cancer within a decade.

So, can performing oral sex give you cancer? Well, the answer is technically yes; according to a new study from the US, if you have five or more oral-sex partners in your lifetime you're two-and-a-half times more likely to develop throat cancer than someone with less experience. The John Hopkins University's School of Medicine – who conducted the research – believe that oral sex can indeed transmit HPV, which in turn is linked to several cancers, including cervical, mouth and throat cancer.

Before you do decide to completely abstain though, bear in mind the same research stated that the risk of contracting oral cancer by any means is still incredibly low, with only 1 in 10,000 people developing it. Also there are several types of HPV, and not all of them cause cancer. The researchers added that the two most common causes of mouth cancer are smoking and alcohol, going on to say that regularly combining the two as a part of your lifestyle increases your risk by up to 30 times. Although oral sex was a part of the study, it was stressed that the risks there were not as high.

But how can you protect yourself? The risk might not be huge, but it's still worth knowing about the methods you can use to keep yourself as safe as possible. Oral barriers, usually known as dams, reduce the risk of contracting infections that could otherwise be transmitted through oral sex. The barrier is a thin sheet of latex in a rectangular shape measuring about 10'' by 6''. It works by preventing contact with skin or fluids, the same way a condom protects you during vaginal or anal sex.

If you and your partner do not have the HPV virus then there should not be a problem, and your risk of developing mouth cancer shouldn't increase. If you're taking part in oral sex without knowing the sexual history of your partner though, then you are inviting a little more risk, especially since fewer people are aware of the risks in oral sex as opposed to vaginal or anal intercourse. It's important that you check yourself regularly and look out for warning signs – mouth ulcers that don't heal after three weeks, lumps and red or white patches in the mouth could all indicate cancer, and it's important that you check it out if any of them occur. Early detection increases the likelihood of survival by between 50 and 90%, so it's always worth bearing in mind.

Of course, we want people to enjoy sex, however they are doing it – but safety is vital. You probably haven't thought much about protecting yourself during oral sex before now, but do – it could make a huge difference.

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