Is oral sex worse than tobacco?! … Say it ain’t so!

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Caroline May
Political Reporter

Whip out your Marlboros folks, oral sex — not tobacco — could now be the leading cause of throat cancer among people under 50!

Despite that exceedingly irresponsible lede (seriously, though,  don’t smoke, kids), American scientists now say that oral cancer caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) has become more prevalent in the U.S. than oral cancer caused by tobacco.

Maura Gillison, a cancer researcher at Ohio State University told reporters Sunday at an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting that scientists have found a 225 percent increase in the number of oral cancer cases in the U.S. during the last three decades.

“When you compare people who have an oral infection or not … the single greatest factor is the number of partners on whom the person has performed oral sex,” said Gillson, adding that studies have shown that people who have performed oral sex on more than six partners have an eight times greater risk of developing head or neck cancer than their perhaps less promiscuous peers.

In the last two decades, incidents of oral cancer in the U.S. from HPV have doubled. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that half of all sexually active Americans will get HPV throughout the course of their lifetime.

HPV has gotten attention in recent years for causing cervical cancer in women, with some states mandating and gynecologists recommending Gardasil and Cervarix to their patients as preventative vaccines. With this troubling data, however, researchers are advising boys and men to get vaccinated as well.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research U.K.’s director of health information, told the Daily Mail that many people infected with HPV do not see symptoms or require treatment. She added that while many may hope to find the silver bullet in mass vaccinations, there is no fail safe.

“[W]hile it’s reasonable to assume that HPV vaccination in girls and boys would protect against these cancers, there is as yet no evidence as to whether the current HPV vaccines are effective at preventing them,” Hiom said.

At Sunday’s AAAS meeting Bonnie Halpern-Felsher of the University of California San Francisco recommended that one solution might be to increase awareness and get doctors to discuss risks with their patients.

“Teens really have no idea that oral sex is related to any outcome like STIs (sexually transmitted infections), HPV, chlamydia and so on,” she said.