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Scientists from Johns Hopkins reveal the deadly danger of having oral sex at an early age and with many partners

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Those who have oral sex before their 18th birthday are often more likely to develop throat and moutht cancers to human papillomavirus infection, as demonstrated by a team of scientists from Johns Hopkins University.

Previous research has suggested that oral sex has an important risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer linked to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. 

To examine how this sexual practice affects human health, Dr. Virginia Drake of Johns Hopkins University and her colleagues examined the behavior of 163 people with this type of tumor and 345 without it. Both groups had participants of the same age, race and balanced proportion of men and women. After being surveyed, scientists found that the risk of oropharyngeal cancer was 4.5 times higher in those who have had oral sex with more than 10 partners in their lifetime.

In addition, the probability of suffering from this disease is 80% higher in people who began practicing this type of carnal intercourse before turning 18, compared to those who did it for the first time at 20. In this case it does not matter the number of partners they have had, the researchers say.

The risk nearly tripled in people who had performed oral sex with more than five people in a decade since they became sexually active. 

Should oral sex be avoided?

Today, human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world, Drake explained. HPV is most famous for leading to cervical cancer. It is also the cause of several other types of tumors, the oropharynx being one of them. HPV is believed to be behind 70% of cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Every year, doctors in the US diagnose HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer in about 3,500 women and 16,200 men in the country. Therefore, it is important to investigate factors that make only certain people vulnerable to the human papillomavirus that leads to oropharyngeal cancer.

It is currently unclear why people who began having oral sex at an early age, or with greater intensity, have a higher risk of developing this type of tumor. The main question to be answered in the near future, according to Drake, is whether this factor makes it more difficult for the immune system to clear an HPV infection.

In theory, Drake noted, the immune response may be weaker in the body that is exposed to HPV first through the mouth, rather than the genitals. The patients who participated in the new study tended to say that their first sexual experience had involved oral sex.

While more research is needed on the subject, the new findings do not change the practical advice for those who enjoy this type of sex.

“No one should take this as a hint of ‘not having oral sex,'” said Hunter Handsfield, who is the pforessor emeritus of medicine at the University of Washington Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Oral sex is generally safer than intercourse when it comes to the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

“And what no study has been able to answer is: If I take a young person and advise her to avoid oral sex, am I lowering her risk of throat cancer?” He said, as cited by the source.

According to him, the best way to reduce the number of HPV-related cancers is “vaccination.”

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