A new study published in the Annals of Oncology looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which had data from 13,089 people ages 20-69 who participated in it between 2009 and 2014, to see how many people had oral HPV. Researchers then looked at a separate database of overall deaths in America to see how many of those people had throat cancer as a cause of death from the cancerous HPV strain. From there, they could see how common the risk of HPV infections were.
Rates of infection in every age group were higher in men than women, and they were especially high—15 percent—in men who both currently smoked and had had five or more sexual partners in their lifetime. Men who had multiple partners but didn’t smoke had a lower chance of getting the STI.
As we reported earlier this year, HPV causes about 70 percent of throat cancer cases. Proteins from the cancer-causing strain can attack your cells, making them multiply at an alarming rate. Ted Teknos, M.D., chairman for the Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, told Men’s Health that between the 1980s and now, cases have increased 300 percent since only now are doctors seeing the effects.
Unfortunately, HPV-linked throat cancer often has no early symptoms. But as it progresses, a lump in your neck usually appears.
“It’s usually right where you get swollen glands from tonsillitis, the upper part of the neck right next to your voice box region,” Dr. Teknos said.
Other late-stage symptoms can include difficulty swallowing, changes in your voice, and a lasting sore throat.
Although this all sounds scary, there’s no reason you shouldn’t still continue to have oral sex. Dr. Teknos recommends getting the HPV vaccine to protect yourself against the strain of HPV that causes cancer.
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“There’s only about 1 percent of cancers that have been identified due to strains that may or may not be included in the vaccine, so it’s 99 percent preventable with vaccination—but the key is, you need to vaccinate yourself before you’re exposed,” Dr. Teknos said.
Always using condoms and limiting how many sexual partners you have also decreases your risk, according to Dr. Teknos. (We recommend the ultra-comfortable Lelo Hex condoms from the Men’s Health store.)
But the good news is that if you do contract HPV-linked throat cancer, there’s over a 90 percent chance you’ll be cured, Dr. Teknos assured. If you’ve been diagnosed with HPV, see your doctor right away if you notice any throat cancer symptoms—the earlier they’re detected, the better.
Additional reporting by Alisa Hrustic.