Single men, smokers at higher risk for oral HPV: study


By:  Health, Published on Tue Jul 09 2013

 New research shows that while it is rare for men to acquire cancer-causing oral human papillomavirus, those who do are more likely to be single and smokers.

A study in the July issue of The Lancet found that less than two per cent of 1,626 healthy men who were followed for a year had acquired the cancer-causing type of oral HPV.

Researchers from the United States, Mexico and Brazil found a significant number of the infected men were smokers, unmarried and did not live with anyone.

Interest in the connection between oral HPV and throat cancer was piqued last month when actor Michael Douglas was quoted in the Guardian newspaper as attributing his throat cancer to oral sex. A rep for the actor attributing his throat cancer to oral sex Douglas never said oral sex was the cause of his cancer.


HPV infection is known to be the cause of most oropharyngeal cancers, or malignancy of the tonsils and base of the tongue. Though rare, this kind of cancer is increasing, especially among men.

The virus is also known to cause virtually all cervical cancers, most anal cancers and some genital cancers.

There are more than 100 types of HPV and this study tested for 37 in the oral cavity — 13 of which are known to cause cancer — by asking the participants to gargle with a mouth rinse.

Almost 4 1/2 per cent of the men were found to have oral HPV and less than two per cent had a cancer-causing type such as HPV16.

As well, about 50 per cent of men had acquired genital HPV during the year in question.

Researchers do not yet know what proportion of men who contract oral HPV go on to get cancer. The vast majority of oral and genital HPV infections resolve themselves.

While oral sex is thought to play a role in transmission of oral HPV, studies have yet to show a definitive link.

“We did not find a significant link (with oral sex), but we did find that sexual orientation and marital status appeared to be predictive of oral HPV infection,” explained lead author Christine Pierce Campbell, a post-doctoral fellow at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla.

Unmarried men who are not in monogamous relationships may have more sexual partners and be involved in riskier sexual behaviours, she said.

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