HPV Links Oral Sex to Throat Cancer

By Monique Frausto

Throat cancer and oral sex may have something in common
according to new research.

According to a recent study by John Hopkins University Kimmel
Cancer Center, the human papillomavirus is the key to the discovery
of oropharyngeal in men and women; this cancer affects the throat,
tonsils and back of the tongue.

According to Carla Jackson, a health educator with Student
Health Services, oral sex is often believed to be the “safer” sex,
but she admits this recent study of throat cancer may disprove that
idea and caution those who don’t practice safe sex.

“There’s definitely been evidence of a link for a long time,”
said Jackson. “They just didn’t know how strong the link was. It’s
an even stronger link than smoking and alcohol use, which was
thought to be the main causes of throat cancer in the past.”

HPV is the name of a group of viruses that include more than 100
different strains or types, with more than 30 of these being
sexually transmitted, according to the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.

John Hopkins found that HPV16, one of the most common
cancer-causing strains, was found in 72 percent of the tumors,
affecing the cancer patients in the study.

Dr. Maura Gillison, an oncologist at John Hopkins, said in the
study that oropharyngeal cancer is relatively uncommon and those
with an oral HPV infection will probably not get throat cancer, but
she insists consistent condom use may reduce the risk.

Even though the CDC reports 6.2 million new cases of HPV each
year, Jackson said many people don’t realize how common STDs
are.

Misconceptions, lack of education and myths about sex seem to be
the reason for the constant promotion of practicing safe sex.

“In general, college students do come to college with some
misconceptions about sexual activity,” said Jackson.

Jackson believes one big misconception is that condoms are
completely protective. She considers condoms to be the best
protection out there, but explains that sometimes herpes or a
lesion may be outside the coverage area of the condom.

“About 80 percent of the population will have a genital
infection in their life,” said Jackson. “Most of the people won’t
even know it because some of the strains don’t cause any symptoms
at all.”

Gardasil, a vaccine for HPV, protects against only four types of
the strain. The CDC notes that these four types cause 70 percent of
cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts. It is now being
used for girls and women 9-26 years old.

Jackson acknowledges the new vaccine, saying it has a lot of
potential, but is concerned that it isn’t 100 percent effective
against all strains of HPV. Another study found other strains of
the virus were starting to fill in for the four viruses that the
vaccination would cover.

“I think it could be helpful and they should offer it to men if
it is found to be linked to the type 16 virus and oropharyngeal
cancer, and if the study holds up,” said Jackson. “But it should be
expanded as well to include more types.”

She states that oral sex is the most practiced type of sex by
college students. The different types of protection for oral sex
would be similar to vaginal or anal sex.

There are condoms that are specifically designed for oral
sex-some are flavored. A dental dam is a rectangular piece of latex
rubber that can also be used as protection for oral sex.

In 2004, a random sample of 871 Cal Poly Pomona students was
chosen for the National College Health Assessment Report.

The assessment reported that only 7.6 percent of those students
used a condom the last time they had oral sex and only 52.1 percent
used a condom for vaginal sex.

“I don’t believe it will stop people from having oral sex,” said
Florence Ko, a fourth-year graphic design student.

Ko admits that this new study scares her but she takes her own
precautions and thinks other students should too.

Alexandra Pasos, a second-year business management and human
resources student, wonders whether this study could be effective in
warning people but remains unsure.

“I don’t know,” said Pasos. “You hear a lot of things about STDs
and what people are saying about it. But, I don’t think people
really think about protection. They will just do it. I think it’s
carelessness.”

Jackson doesn’t think this new study will stop anyone from
having oral sex, but hopefully it will make people aware of the
risk.

Having unprotected sex can lead to one of many STDs, some of
which can be cured. As a college student, tips on safe sex can be
found at the Wellness Center and confidential HIV testing is
offered at Student Health Services.

“We can’t be so nonchalant about having oral sex,” said Jackson.
“We need to think of protecting ourselves.”

Monique Frausto can be reached by e-mail at arts@thepolypost.com
or by phone at (909) 869-3744.

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