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Friday, January 17, 2014

No increased risk of infection for sex partners of individuals with HPV-related oral cancers


Human papilloma virus (HPV)-related oral cancers are rising in prevalence among white men in the US, and fear of transmitting the virus can lead to anxiety, divorce, and curtailing of sex and intimacy among couples. Persistent oral HPV infections are a risk for developing oropharyngeal cancers, located at the base of the tongue, tonsils, pharynx and soft palate.

A multicenter, pilot study performed by Johns Hopkins investigators found that spouses and long-term partners of patients with mouth and throat cancers related to infection with the HPV appear to have no increased prevalence of oral HPV infections. The study’s results suggest that long-term couples need not change their sexual practices.

The researchers conducted surveys and took oral rinse samples from 166 male and female patients with HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers and 94 spouses and partners. More than half of patients had at least one type of HPV DNA detectable in their oral rinses, including HPV16, the viral type most commonly associated with oral and other cancers. After a year, only seven patients (6%) still had oral HPV16 DNA detectable.

Of the 94 spouses/partners, six had oral HPV infections (6.5 %). These infections were not detectable one year later. No oral cancers were detected among 60 spouses/partners who underwent a visual oral examination.

The investigators concluded that oral HPV prevalence among partners was comparable to rates observed among the general population, and even though long-term spouses and partners have been exposed to HPV they cleared the virus. They also concluded that more research is needed to determine the timeline of progression for HPV-related oral cancers and how HPV is transmitted and suppressed by the immune system.