A new report shows that oral sex may be causing more throat cancer than tobacco.
Researchers studying HPV (human papillomavirus) say that it causes 64% of oropharynxl cancers in the US.
It is now thought to be the main cause of throat cancer in people under 50 years old.
The study was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in February.
Researchers at Ohio State University say the more oral sex someone has had, and the more partners they’ve had, the greater their risk of getting these cancers, which develop in the middle part of the throat.
Dr Maura Gillison, of Ohio State University, said: ‘An individual who has six or more lifetime partners – on whom they’ve performed oral sex – has an eightfold increase in risk compared to someone who has never performed oral sex.’
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, about 37,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with oral cancer in 2010.
Over the past five years, health officials have been urging parents to make sure their daughters are vaccinated against HPV to help prevent cervical cancer.
But these new results suggest that young men could also benefit from vaccination because the recent rise in oropharynxl cancer is predominantly among young, white men.
The British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF) has been calling on the government to include boys in its vaccination programmes – designed to guard against the sexually transmitted HPV virus – for years.
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Foundation, has said: ‘It is admirable that the government is taking such positive steps to reduce the number of cervical cancer cases for the women of the future but, with mouth cancer killing more people than cervical cancer and testicular cancer combined, it is clear that this little-known condition also needs to be addressed.
‘By expanding its HPV vaccination programme to include boys as well as girls, the government would be able to address the problem of rising HPV-related mouth cancer deaths in a simple, fair and effective manner.
‘With young people becoming progressively more sexually active this problem is not going to go away. It needs to be addressed and sooner rather than later.’
Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington, Dr Maura Gillison, of Ohio State University, said: ‘When my patients ask whether they should vaccinate their sons I say “certainly”. The vaccine will protect them against genital warts and anal cancer and also as a potential byproduct of that it may protect them against oral cancer caused by HPV.’