Oral sex linked to cancer risk

US scientists said Sunday there is strong evidence linking oral sex to cancer, and urged more study of how human papillomaviruses may be to blame for a rise in oral cancer among white men.

In the United States, oral cancer due to HPV infection is now more common than oral cancer from tobacco use, which remains the leading cause of such cancers in the rest of the world.

Researchers found a 225 percent increase in oral cancer cases in the United States from 1974 to 2007, mainly among white men, said Maura Gillison of Ohio State University.

"When you compare people who have an oral infection or not," said Gillison, who has been researching HPV and cancer for 15 years, "the single greatest factor is the number of partners on whom the person has performed oral sex."

"When the number of partners increases, the risk increases," she told reporters at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington.

Previous studies have suggested that people who have performed oral sex on six or more different partners over a lifetime face an eight-fold higher risk of acquiring HPV-related head or neck cancer, she said.

But even though the link between HPV and cervical cancer has been well known for many years, and vaccines now exist to provide some protection for young women, much study remains to be done, Gillison said.

"The cervical cancer field is 20 years ahead," she said.

"We can't demonstrate definitively that certain behaviors are associated with risk of acquiring an infection," she said.

"The rise in oral cancer in the US in predominantly among young white males and we do not know the answer as to why."

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