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J Sex Med. 2012 Sep;9(9):2224-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2012.02684.x. Epub 2012 Mar 16.

Is oral sex really a dangerous carcinogen? Let's take a closer look.

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Private Practice Chapel Hill, NC, USA.



Questions have recently arisen in the popular press about the association between specific sexual behaviors, namely, fellatio and cunnilingus, with head and neck cancers. Although there has been an overall decline in the incidence of head and neck cancers over the past 25 years, there has been a shift in the distribution of these cancers toward a particular type known as oral squamous cell carcinomas (OSCCs), and a younger demographic. These particular cancers, OSCCs, have been shown to be associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV). Several researchers have suggested that this shift in the epidemiology of head and neck cancers might be attributable to changing sexual practices. While this speculation has caught on in the popular press, there are several interesting contradictions in the existing evidence that suggest this conclusion might be premature and overreached.


The intent of this article is to help clarify the issues so that sexual medicine professionals can give accurate and up-to-date information to their patients.


This is a review article; no outcome data are reported. This is a review article; no measures were collected.


Pubmed search on HPV, oral sex, oral cancers, and OSCCs.


One hundred ninety-six articles on HPV were found; 63 articles on oral sex, 55 on oral cancer, and 5 articles on OSCCs were identified as relevant.


HPV infections occur commonly and are usually cleared within 18 months, thus HPV infection should not be a cause for concern among monogamous couples with a rich and varied sex life as long as the sexual system remains closed and other immune compromising factors are not present. HPV becomes a concern in the context of immune system compromise and infection persistence. Factors contributing to immune system compromise, HPV persistence, and oncogenesis are reviewed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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