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Multiple Partners Increase Risk of Cancer

by: Dr. Gabe Mirkin, M.D.

One third of people diagnosed with throat cancer are infected with the Human Papilloma Virus (Journal of Clinical Oncology, 20 July, 2013). Other causes include smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Healthy people were followed for 10 years with blood tests and lifestyles. At the start of the study, everyone had blood drawn for the E6 antibody against HPV that helps the body protect itself from cancer caused by HPV. If you have the E6 antibody, HPV has already overcome your defense against HPV and you already have cancer.

After 10 years, 135 of the participants had developed mouth cancer, and 1,599 did not. Of those with throat cancer, 35 percent had E6 antibodies, meaning that 35 percent of the throat cancers were caused by HPV. Eighty-four percent of those with E6 were still alive five years after diagnosis, compared with 58 percent of those without E6. This shows that patients with oral cancer caused by HPV live longer than those with cancer caused by smoking or drinking.

* At any given time, seven percent of North Americans have HPV actively growing in their mouths. Transmission by casual, nonsexual contact is unusual (Journal of the American Medical Association, Jan. 25, 2012;307(4):335-421). The incidence of oral HPV is lower than that of genital HPV.

* HPV is found far more frequently in sexually-active people compared to abstainers. The most significant risk factor for being infected with these viruses is the lifetime number of sex partners. The more sexual partners in your lifetime, the more likely you are to carry HPV and suffer oral cancer.

* The younger you begin having sex, the greater your chances of carrying oral HPV.

* Men are three times more likely than women to have HPV in their mouths. The authors of one study believe that this is probably because the rate of men performing oral sex on women is higher than the rate of women performing oral sex on men (Emerg Infect Dis, 2008;14(6):888-894).

What are the Signs of HPV Infections?

HPV can cause cancers anywhere: on your skin, cervix, anus, vagina, penis, mouth, tongue, lymph node, throat or gums. You acquire HPV by rubbing skin on skin or with genital or oral contact. After a sexual partner infects you with the virus, you may have no symptoms at all. You may also have the symptoms caused by the other infections that your partner may have acquired with HPV. It is extremely common for a person to be infected with many venereal diseases at the same time.

The symptoms of mouth cancer are mouth ulcers, sores, or red or white patches that last longer than three weeks, persistent pain on swallowing, difficulty swallowing, a change in voice, ear pain, a feeling of a ball in the throat, a neck mass, or unexplained weight loss.


HPV lives on the skin, genitals, mouth, and anus and travels in vaginal, saliva, and semen fluids. More than 150 different viruses belong to the HPV group. Most people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives, but most will cure themselves. After you pick up HPV from a sexual contact, you will usually clear that virus in six to nine months. However, some people do not rid themselves of these viruses. They are the ones most likely to develop cancers later.

Two HPV strains are most likely to cause cancer - HPV-16 and HPV-18. HPV-16 causes 60 percent of cervical cancers, 80 percent of anal cancers and 60 percent of oral cancers.

No effective treatment exists today for HPV infections. The vaccines against HPV prevent those strains of HPV only if you receive them before you are exposed to that specific virus. Once you acquire the virus, the vaccine is ineffective. Condoms reduce HPV infections but do not provide complete protection.

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