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Increase in throat cancer caused by virus that can spread from oral sex

A study has found that the number of cases of throat cancer caused by the human papillomavirus have risen.

The human papillomavirus vaccine Gardiasil
The human papillomavirus vaccine Gardiasil
Image: CHARLES REX ARBOGAST/AP/Press Association Images

A VIRUS WHICH can be transmitted during oral sex may cause more cases of throat cancer in men than smoking, according to a new study.

Researchers at Ohio State University in the US have published the findings of a study of over 270 patients with throat cancer during a 20-year period in the Journal of Clinical Onc0logy.

They found that the number of people diagnosed with the human papillomavirus virus (HPV) tripled between 1988 and 2004.

HPV is known for infecting the genitals and can lead to genital warts as well as a number of different cancers including in the cervix and throat.

The virus was found in only 16 per cent of the tumour samples taken from throat cancer patients in the 1980s compared to 72 per cent on those samples collected after 200.

Overall, researchers estimate that instances of throat cancers caused by the virus have increased to 2.6 per 100,000 people in 2004 from 0.8 cases per 100,000 people in 1988.

They said that if such a trend continued the virus will cause more throat cancer than cervical cancer by 2020, the New York Times reports.

Researchers said they suspect the increase was because of changes in sexual behaviour which have helped spread the virus.

Maura Gillison, an oncologist at Ohio State University, told Bloomberg:  ”The burden of cancer caused by HPV is going to shift from women to men in this decade.

What we believe is happening is that the number of sexual partners and exposure to HPV has risen over that same time period.
Bloomberg adds that the findings are likely to mean further calls for large-scale trials to see if the vaccine Gardasil, which wards off cervical cancer in women, also prevents HPV throat infections.

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Hugh O'Connell

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