Feature

Health scare of the week: New HPV fears

Rates of throat cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) have tripled over the past 20 years.

The mouths of one in 15 Americans are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), a new study says, and rates of throat cancer caused by the disease have tripled over the past 20 years. Researchers tested nearly 6,000 men and women ages 14 to 69 for HPV and asked them to describe their health habits and sexual histories. Surprisingly, they found that men were three times more likely than women to have oral HPV—which may explain why they’re also three times more likely to develop head and neck cancer. The odds of becoming infected with HPV of the mouth also increased with age and with the number of sexual partners people had had in their lifetimes; smoking heightened the risk as well. HPV infects the mouth predominantly through oral sex, but many people, especially teens, don’t “make the link between oral sex and STDs” and fail to use protection, Fred Wyand, an HPV expert at the American Social Health Association, tells the Los Angeles Times. And many parents consider the HPV vaccine irrelevant to their children, says Hans Schlecht of Drexel University College of Medicine. “People are not comfortable talking about” oral sex, he says, even if the conversation could prevent cancer.

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