New data presented at the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science has revealed that men are twice as likely as women to develop oropharyngeal cancers that are linked to human papillomavirus (HPV).

The recent data showed that men were 37 percent less likely than women to clear an oral HPV infection. “Men are not only more likely to become infected with oral HPV infection than women, but our research also showed that once you become infected, men are less likely to clear these infections than women, further contributing to their cancer risk,” said Gypsyamber D’Souza, PhD, an associate professor in the Viral Oncology and Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Maryland, who presented the research.

Oral sex is the main risk factor for oral HPV infection, and previous research has found that performing oral sex is more common in younger generations than in older age groups. Among the younger generation, there is also a tendency to have more partners and to engage in sexual behaviours at a young age.

“These differences in sexual behaviour across age cohorts explain the differences we see in oral HPV prevalence and in HPV- related oropharyngeal cancer across the generations and why the rate of this cancer is increasing,” Dr D’Souza said. “But differences in sexual behaviour do not explain the differences that we see between men and women in oral HPV infection and HPV-related cancer,” she added.

The authors note that the interaction between sexes, oral sexual behaviour and risk for incident oral HPV infection was most notable. The recent performance of oral sex significantly increased risk for oral HPV infection in men but not women.

Dr D’Souza explained that when women are first exposed to HPV vaginally, they create an immune response that prevents them from developing an oral HPV infection.

The authors note that their findings emphasise the need for HPV vaccination among boys as well as girls.

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