Oral sex & Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): Understanding the risks

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Michael Douglas says oral sex caused his throat cancer – but what are the risks of HPV?

Michael Douglas

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Michael Douglas has revealed that contracting the sexually-transmitted disease HPV through oral sex was the cause for his throat cancer.

In an interview with the Guardian, the Oscar-winning actor explained that it wasn't his smoking that that had caused his illness, 'without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV which actually comes about from cunnilingus.'

He continued, 'I did worry if the stress caused by my son's incarceration didn't help trigger it. But yeah, it's a sexually transmitted disease that causes cancer.'

The shocking revelation begs the question what is HPV and should we be worried?

What is HPV?

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is a common group of viruses that will affect most people at some point in their lives. It is estimated around 75% of sexually active people will have it at some time.

According to MacMillan, the body's immune system usually gets rid of HPV without causing problems, and often people aren't aware they have even contracted it.

Certain strains of HPV can also cause serious illnesses such as genital warts, but the virus is most associated with the few strains that can lead to cervical cancer. HPV-16 can cause throat cancer, and is usually contracted through oral sex.

However most people who contract HPV won't develop cancer.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who is sexually active. HPV is passed through skin to skin contact. However most people kill of the virus without it becoming a problem.

How can you reduce the risk of infection?

As with all STI's, you will contract HPV from an infected partner - however it can be difficult to tell if they have it as often HPV is symptomless.

Using condoms is not completely effective, but it does reduce the risks and is always advisable.

Can you test for it?

There is no blood test for HPV and there are usually no-symptoms for the high-risk strains that cause cancer.

It is important to be alert to any changes in the parts of the body where HPV may result in developing cancer.

In the case of throat cancer, symptoms can include:

An ulcer or sore that doesn't heal
Difficult or painful swallowing
Pain when chewing
A constant sore throat or hoarse voice
A swelling or lump in the mouth
A numb feeling in the mouth or lips.

Women should attend their regular cervical smear tests to ensure early detection of cervical cancer.

For more information, visit, macmillan.org.uk

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