Millions Warned About Oral Sex As Awareness Of Silent Killer Plummets

There are 600 million cases worldwide. But plenty of people haven't heard of it.
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Oral sex is something lots of people engage in. But you might be shocked to know that it’s associated with human papillomavirus (HPV), which has been linked to some types of cancer.

WHO estimates there are 600 million cases of HPV worldwide. It is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection (STI), with almost every sexually active person catching HPV at some point in their life.

Though having HPV is normally quite harmless, it can lead to genital warts, cervical cancer, and has been linked to anal, oral and penile cancers.

Awareness of HPV is low

Academics at the American Association for Cancer Research aired concerns about the lack of awareness surrounding the disease. During its annual meeting in April, members highlighted that only two-thirds of people know about HPV.

A survey of 2,000 adults, carried out between 2014 to 2020, revealed a low awareness of HPV and its links with certain types of cancer. And alarmingly, knowledge about the disease seemed to decrease throughout the study.

Of those who had heard of HPV, 70.2% knew it was linked with cervical cancer. But for other types of cancer, awareness was a lot lower.

Knowledge of the link between HPV and anal cancer fell from 27.9% to 27.4% between 2014 and 2020. Awareness of oral cancer dropped from 31.2% to 29.5%, whilst knowledge about penile cancer fell from 30.3% to 28.4%.

“Given the connections between HPV-associated cancer awareness and HPV vaccination uptake, it is important we increase the population’s awareness of this link, as it may help increase vaccine uptake,” said Dr Eric Adjei Boakye, assistant scientist in the Department of Health Sciences at Henry Ford Health in Detroit.

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI), according to Dr Hana Patel, a GP and specialist in women’s health.

The virus is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex with someone who has the virus, however, it can also be spread through close skin-to-skin contact during sex (including oral sex) and sharing sex toys.

What are the symptoms in women?

Dr Patel spoke to Superdrug Online Doctor about how a lack of symptoms can mean HPV often goes unnoticed – however, it can be found during a smear test.

External symptoms can be lumps around your genitals (genital warts), in which case you should head to your GP to get checked.

In regards to treating your HPV diagnosis, Dr Patel said: “There is no direct treatment for the HPV virus, as it can lay dormant in the body but there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause.”

Generally, bodies clear the HPV virus within two years, and only some cases cause symptoms or develop into cancers.

“Whilst HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer, women who develop high risk HPV lesions only have a 5-15% chance of developing cervical cancer, which can take between 8-10 years to develop,” Dr Patel adds.