Increase in oral cancers may be linked to America's sexual revolution

Oct 25, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  A new study in a leading cancer journal says there’s been a dramatic increase in the incidence of certain oral cancers associated with the Human Papilloma Virus; a finding that tracks with a similar increase seen here in the mid-state.

Vanderbilt researcher Krystle Kuhs studies oral HPV infections  and cancers exclusively. While Dr. Kuhs stresses that these cancers remain rare, she does note that Vanderbilt Medical Center has seen a 3,000 percent increase in HPV related cancers among male patients since the 1980s.

“We’re seeing an increase in oral pharyngeal cancer that sort of coincides with the sexual revolution in the U.S. So during that time it was more common to have more sexual partners, oral sex also became more common and we think that is why we’re seeing this large increase in this type of cancer.”

Krystle Lang Kuhs, Ph.D., Vanderbilt Assistant Professor of Medicine
Credit vanderbilt.edu

Dr. Kuhs notes that the Southeastern United States has some of the highest HPV infection rates in the country, and - perhaps not coincidentally - also has the nation’s lowest HPV vaccination rates. She encourages parents to make sure their children get that HPV shot.

“The age that’s recommended is currently 11 or 12 years old and the reason that that’s the recommended age is because we want to get children vaccinated prior to sexual debut, because once they’re exposed to the virus the vaccine can’t do anything to help an individual clear the infection.”

A new study in Annals of Oncology suggests that men who had multiple oral sex partners and those who smoke have the greatest chance of developing an HPV related oral cancer.

Research resources provided by Dr. Kuhs