A rise in mouth cancer may be due to the sexually transmitted infection that also causes cervical cancer, researchers have suggested.
In the last twenty years there has been a 50 per cent rise in cases of a type of mouth cancer and the increase appears to be in those linked to the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV also causes 80 per cent of cervical cancer cases. Schoolgirls as young as 12 are currently being vaccinated against the virus.
The authors of the study, published in the British Medical Journal, said transmission of HPV through oral sex might be the reason for the increase in cases of mouth cancer. They said consideration should now be given to extending the HPV vaccination programme to boys.
Lead author Hisham Mehanna, from the Institute of Head and Neck Studies and Education, University Hospital, Coventry, said HPV-related mouth cancer seemed to be a relatively new disease that was different from non-HPV related cancers in the mouth.
Usually oral cancers are normally associated with excessive smoking and drinking and they usually strike older people. The HPV-related cases have a much better survival rate and are found in younger people. Research shows that the risk of developing oropharyngeal cancer is increased by 25 per cent in those who had a history of six or more sexual partners.
Nell Barrie, Cancer Research UK’s science information officer, said: “We know that HPV can cause oropharyngeal cancer, as well as several other types of cancer including cervical cancer.
“It will also be interesting to see if the HPV vaccine could help to reduce rates of oropharyngeal cancer. The vaccine protects against cervical cancer by immunising women against the two most common cancer-causing types of HPV.