[COLUMN] On oral sex, throat cancer

THE rate of throat cancer in the United States has not declined, compared to most head and neck malignancies. I suspect that the statistics could also be true when extrapolated for other countries like the Philippines since most Filipinos are westernized in their lifestyle, habits, and behaviors, etc.

The most logical explanation why cancer of the throat has not diminished has been attributed to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a bug that causes a sexually transmitted disease. HPV is popularly known to cause genital warts and most cancers of the cervix (mouth of the womb). It has only been recently when scientists discovered and identified HPV transmission through oral sex as an etiology of throat cancer.

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston reported that its research team found “the incidence of throat cancer (in the United States) to be stagnant and even rising in some populations, defying a downward trend in other head and neck cancers linked more closely with smoking.”

The American Cancer Society reports that the greatest risk factors in head and neck cancers are smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages, 90% of them either smokers or tobacco-chewers and about 80% of them also imbibed a lot of alcohol. The good news is that a trend analysis in head and neck cancers in the United States shows a decline the past twenty years, trailing a decrease in smoking prevalence, which started in the 1970s, by 10 to 15 years.

The bad news is that oro-pharyngeal cancers (which include the tonsils, base of the tongue and soft palate, and side and back of the throat) have gone up in some populations in the United States, and probably among people in other parts of the world who practice oral sex, where HPV takes its toll.

Sample of the vaccine referred to is Gardasil, which is genetically engineered, and which blocks infection caused by two of the more than 100 types of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), strains 16 and 18. These two sexually transmitted viruses are responsible for about 70% of cervical cancers. HPV, in one form or the other, afflicts about 20 million Americans. The other strains of the virus cause painful genital warts, and sometimes, cervical cancers too.

How prevalent is cervical cancer?

In the Philippines, there are about 7190 new cases of cervical cancer each year, with a death rate of about 4,088. Annually, more than 13,000 cervical cancer cases are diagnosed in the United States and around 4,250 of them die. However, more alarming than that is the fact that there are between 10,000 to 25,000 women walking around (not seen by physician) who have undiagnosed pre-invasive lesions in their cervix. If diagnosed early, these women could be saved. For every four survivors of breasts cancer, there are less than 3 women who survive cervical cancer, which shows how virulent cervical cancer is.

What causes cervical cancer?

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV, also known as genital herpes virus) accounts for most cervical cancers. At least 50% of sexually active men and women are infected with genital HPV, especially those with multiple partners. There are about 20 million American men and women infected with HPV, many linked with abnormal pap tests, genital warts and cervical cancer. It is estimated that at least 10,000 new cases of cervical cancers are discovered annually. Between half a million to a million Americans have genital warts, transmitted thru sexual contacts.

Is the cure for cervical cancer?

Better than the cure! A vaccine (Gardasil) that prevents cervical cancer, vulvar and vaginal cancer that was approved by the U.S.-FDA in 2006 was found to be “effective 100%, in the short term, at blocking the cancer and lesions likely to turn to cancer” (like the pre-invasive lesions), according to Gardasil manufacturer, Merck & Co.  “To have 100 percent efficacy is something that you have very rarely,” Dr. Eliav Barr, Merck’s head of clinical development for Gardasil, told the Associated Press.  The UK’s version of the vaccine is known as Cervarix.

How early should the vaccine be given?

Students in grammar school, middle school and high school should be vaccinated before they become sexually active, because once they catch HPV infection, there is no cure; herpes is for life. This vaccine is a phenomenal breakthrough, and we must take advantage of it to save lives. Both girls and boys should get this cancer-preventing and life-saving vaccine because both of them could transmit and spread the HP virus. Prophylaxis Gardasil vaccination comprehensively eliminates HPV 16 and 18 associated non-invasive and invasive cervical cancer. The vaccine also cuts down infection with HPV 6 and 11, the causes of 90% of genital warts. Mothers should not get in the way by refusing their sons to get this vital vaccine and save countless lives.

How about throat cancers?

Of the 45,000 head and neck cancers in the U.S. each year, about 10,000 of them are oro-pharyngeal cancers, and tongue cancers among young adults have also increased. The evident conclusion is that the cause is the HP virus.

“Over the last five years, 35% of the throat cancer patients treated at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center had no history of smoking, and that close to 90% of patients who had never smoked showed evidence of oral infection with HPV,” says Dr. Sturgis on Web MD. The researchers felt that “vaccinating only females against HPV, which is currently the policy in the United States (for 11- to 12- year-old girls, and for women up to age 26 who have not received it), could result in a missed opportunity to prevent throat cancers.” Boys should also be vaccinated to cover all bases.

Mouth, tongue, and other throat cancers could be as grave and deadly as most other forms of cancers. Now, that we have a vaccine to prevent these cancers almost 100 percent, the whole world should take advantage of this vaccine!

I do not know how to put this more seriously, more effectively, and more delicately, but medically speaking, a moratorium on unprotected oral sex is prudent. Oro-pharyngeal malignancies are a miserable cancer and could be fatal.

* * *

The main objective of this column is to educate and inspire people live a healthier lifestyle to prevent illnesses and disabilities and achieve a happier and more productive life. Any diagnosis, recommendation or treatment in our article are general medical information and not intended to be applicable or appropriate for anyone. This column is not a substitute for your physician, who knows your condition well and who is your best ally when it comes to your health.

* * *

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

* * *

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, health advocate, newspaper columnist, and chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. He was a recipient of the Indiana Sagamore of the Wabash Award in 1995, presented by then Indiana Governor, US senator, and later a presidential candidate, Evan Bayh. Other Sagamore past awardees include President Harry Truman, President George HW Bush, Muhammad Ali, and Astronaut Gus Grissom (Wikipedia). Websites: FUN8888.com, Today.SPSAtoday.com, and philipSchua.com; Email: [email protected].


Dr. Philip S. Chua

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States.

The Filipino-American Community Newspaper. Your News. Your Community. Your Journal. Since 1991.

Copyright © 1991-2024 Asian Journal Media Group.
All Rights Reserved.