Oral sex could be as cancer-causing as tobacco, scientists warn

Oral sex causes mouth cancer

Experts now fear orally-transmitted STIs will rival tobacco as a cancer cause within ten years, but a new study suggests at least some treatment hope

Doctors have used a genetically engineered herpes virus to help treat patients suffering from mouth, neck and head cancer.
In a trial run by the British Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, 17 patients were given injections of the virus, as well as being treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The cold sore virus, known as Onco VEX, was modified to multiply inside cancer cells but not in healthy ones. It would then burst and kill tumour cells, as well as releasing a human protein that would help stimulate patients’ immune systems.

The virus was injected into cancer affected lymph nodes of the patients, in up to four doses.

Tumour shrinkage could be seen on scans for 14 patients, and over three quarters of the participants showed no trace of residual cancer in their lymph nodes during subsequent surgery to remove them. More than two years later, over three quarters of the patients involved in the study had not succumbed to the disease.

Dr Kevin Harrington, Principle Investigator for the ICR and The Royal Marsden said: “Around 35 to 55 per cent of patients given the standard chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment typically relapse within two years, so these results compare very favourably.

He added: “This was a small study so the results should be interpreted with caution; however the very high rates of tumour response have led to the decision to take this drug into a large scale Phase III trial.”

The treatment’s side-effects were mild to moderate, and most (except fever and fatigue) were thought to be caused by the chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, said: “This study is very positive news. Mouth cancer is a devastating disease, and an increasing number of people are being affected. While any treatment that can be found to fight the disease is a great step forward, it is also vital that awareness of the illness, the early symptoms and the risk factors is made common knowledge. Early diagnosis improves survival rates from five in ten to nine in ten people. That highlights how important it is that the public know the facts.”

Mouth cancer claims one life every five hours in the UK and more than 5,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

Tobacco use is the main cause for mouth cancer, with those who drink and smoke to excess being 30 times more likely to develop the disease.

The human papilloma virus has also been identified as a threat. Transmitted via oral sex, and also a known cause of cervical cancer, experts suggest HPV may rival tobacco as a key risk factor within the next 10 years.

An unhealthy diet can also have an impact, with a third of mouth cancer cases being linked to poor eating habits. Growing evidence suggests an increased intake of fruit, vegetables, fish and eggs can help to lower the risks.

Early warning signs of the disease include a non-healing mouth ulcer, red or white patches and any unusual changes in the mouth. If you are suffering any of these symptoms or have any concerns the Foundation advises you visit your dentist or doctor.

The study was published by The Institute of Cancer Research and can be viewed at http://www.icr.ac.uk/press/press_archive/press_releases_2010/15460.shtml.

Mouth cancer claims the lives of 1,850 every year. With over 5,400 new cases each year and a 42 percent increase in incidence in the last 10 years it is one of the fastest growing cancers.

The disease is twice more common in men than in women, though an increasing number of women are being diagnosed. Previously, the disease has been three times more common in men. Age is another factor, with people over the age of 40 more likely to be diagnosed, though more young people are now being affected than previously.

Experts strongly advise people of all ages to check their mouths and have regular dental appointments.

Smoking is the leading cause of mouth cancer – it transforms saliva into a deadly cocktail that damages the cells in the mouth and can turn them cancerous.

The human papilloma virus, passed via oral sex, is an increasing factor particularly among young people. US studies have linked HPV to more than 20,000 cancer cases in the past five years.

Drinking to excess can increase the risk of the disease by four times, and those who smoke and drink to excess are up to 30 times more likely to develop mouth cancer.

Initial signs of the disease include a non-healing mouth ulcer, a red or white patch in the mouth, or unusual lumps or swelling in the mouth.

Poor diet is linked to a third of all cancer cases. Evidence shows an increase in fruit and vegetables lowers the risk, as does fish and eggs.