Oral sex can be deadly

2011-10-05 09:59

Go easy on unprotected oral sex or risk oro-pharyngeal cancer, the SA Dental Association has warned the country’s sexually active population.

An if you have had six or more oral sex partners in your lifetime, the risk increases tenfold.

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer in women, can also be spread through unprotected oral sex. HPV can cause oro-pharyngeal cancer in both men and women.

The virus has more than 100 sub-types, according to Professor Andre van Zyl of the University of Pretoria’s School of Dentistry.

Oro-pharyngeal cancer transmitted through oral sex is more dangerous than the one spread by smoking.

“We’re currently studying the prevalence of oro-pharyngeal cancer. The last study was in 1997,” van Zyl said.

Van Zyl’s research will include the period between 1997 and 2001.

Globally, 400 000 new cases are diagnosed yearly and 50% of people with oral cancer or oro-pharyngeal cancer die within five years of diagnosis.

Oro-pharyngeal cancer targets the area under and at the back of the tongue, and the floor of the mouth.

When advanced, it completely destroys lips and the tongue.

“People should not be promiscuous,” Van Zyl warned.

He said oral sex was “not as safe as we thought” and suggested sexually active people use condoms during oral sex.

The HPV vaccine is still “far too expensive”, costing around R2 500 for three injections over six months.

Meanwhile, the dental association is launching a 12-month public awareness campaign to deal with the alarming increase in oro-pharyngeal cancer as a result of oral sex, according to chief executive Maretha Smit.

Smit said dentists were aware of the dangers oral sex posed and have been made vigilant to possible spikes of oro-pharyngeal cancer in the next few years.

Smoking and heavy drinking can increase the risk of developing oro-pharyngeal cancer.

Van Zyl said: “It’s imperative that regular check-ups are conducted to ensure an early diagnosis of cancer of the oral cavity or oro-pharyngeal cancer.”

He said if detected early, oro-pharyngeal cancer responded very well to chemo-radiation therapy and could be cured.

“The tragedy is that in most cases diagnosis is made too late and patients succumb to the disease,” Van Zyl explained.

Symptoms of oro-pharyngeal cancer include a persistent sore throat, dull pain behind the breastbone, cough, trouble swallowing, weight loss, ear pain, a lump in the back of the mouth, throat or neck and a change in voice.

According to the US National Cancer Institute, oro-pharyngeal cancer can be detected through an x-ray, testing of tissue (biopsy), endoscopy, MRI and CAT scans and physical examination.

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