Published in The Lancet, findings discovered men who smoke and are not married or living with a partner are at far greater risk of developing the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – one of the leading causes of mouth cancer.

The study also noted that the virus is rare in healthy men and if present, is usually gone within 12 months.

Smoking is still considered to be the major cause of mouth cancer. Up to half of current smokers will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease, including mouth cancer.

HPV infections are also responsible for causing anal and penile cancers in men as well as a large majority of cervical cancer cases in women. Mouth cancer traditionally affects more men than women, and with HPV forecast to rival tobacco use as the leading cause of the disease within the next decade, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, says more needs to be done to educate at-risk groups.

Dr Carter said: “In the UK around one in five cases of oral cancer are predicted to be as a result of HPV, yet our awareness and understanding of the virus is alarmingly low. Cases of mouth cancer have doubled in the last 30 years, coinciding with the rise of HPV, and strengthen the argument that there is not enough awareness of the risks we take when we have sex. A recent survey has suggested one in ten people in the UK won’t seek medical help for a sexually transmitted disease because they are too embarrassed. This is exactly the attitude that must be reversed.

The HPV vaccination of young men has already started in Australia and the British Dental Health Foundation is calling for the same to happen in the UK. A wealth of evidence and opinion in the USA suggests a population-wide HPV vaccination programme is now the best solution – for general public health and financial reasons. It is a debate that needs to be opened again here in the UK, as part of the on-going debate about the health and well-being of young people.

Cigarette by Tomasz Sienicki

Cigarette by Tomasz Sienicki

Smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, poor diet and smokeless tobacco are all risk factors which can contribute to mouth cancer. People who smoke and drink to excess are up to 30 times more likely to develop the disease, so it is crucial we continue to educate the public about these risks.

As a result it is really important that everyone knows the warning signs for mouth cancer. They include ulcers which do not heal within three weeks, red and white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth. Our message to everyone is simple. ‘If in doubt, get checked out’.

A total of 1,626 men from Brazil, Mexico and USA were included in the study. During the first 12 months of observations, nearly 4.5 per cent of men acquired an oral HPV infection. Less than one per cent of men had an HPV16 infection, the most commonly acquired type, and less than two per cent had a cancer-causing type of oral HPV.

Image By © 2005 by Tomasz Sienicki [user: tsca, mail: tomasz.sienicki at gmail.com] (Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki / Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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