According to online health clinic Euroclinix, an infection transferred during oral sex could overtake smoking as the main cause of mouth cancer.
While smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and chewing tobacco were once the primary risk factors for mouth cancer, recent years have seen an increase in cases caused by HPV, or the human papillomavirus.
HPV can be contracted through unprotected genital, anal or oral sex and affects the skin around the mouth, rectum, cervix and throat.
Shockingly, the HPV virus now accounts for 25% of all mouth cancers globally and 35% of throat cancers.
This compares to only two thirds attributed to smoking – though it is difficult to quantify the effect precisely, due to the testing methods available and the other risk factors involved.
As outlined by the NHS, detecting HPV cells in a patient with oral cancer does not mean HPV caused the cancer.
The virus becomes part of the genetic material of the cancer cells, triggering their growth.
Though the claim that somehow HPV will overtake smoking as the main cause is questioned by some. There are hundreds of HPV strains, most of which do not lead to cancer, but there are around 15 strains which are associated with cancer.
Talking to Metro.co.uk, Fiona Osgun, Cancer Research UK’s health information officer said
Smoking is linked to about 65 per cent of mouth cancers in the UK, whereas only 8 to 14 per cent of cases are thought to be linked to HPV. Around 90 per cent of mouth cancer cases are preventable – things like staying smokefree, cutting down on alcohol and making sure you get your 5-a-day can all help reduce the risk.”
And, according to Euroclinix data, the number of men and women contracting HPV is increasing.
To help prevent contracting HPV during oral sex, the NHS advises women to place a latex square or dental dam over their genitals.