Not so much tongue in cheek…

A new study suggests many people in the West Midlands are unaware of one of the most common Sexually Transmitted Infections – the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). The virus has been linked to cervical cancer and mouth cancer transmitted by oral sex.

The survey, commissioned by a leading oral health charity, found that less than four out of every ten people in the region (35 per cent) had heard of HPV.  This is in stark contrast to UK wide awareness of other major Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) such as HIV (97 per cent), Chlamydia (93 per cent), Herpes (92 per cent), Gonorrhoea (90 per cent) and Syphilis (89 per cent).

The West Midlands’ knowledge of HPV’s link to cervical cancer and mouth cancer was also low.  Only a quarter of respondents (24 per cent) were aware that HPV was a cause of cervical cancer. Just one in 20 respondents (5 per cent) identified HPV as a cause of mouth cancer transmitted via oral sex.

Last year a total of 482,696 new STI cases were reported in the UK.  It is thought that at least 50 per cent of sexually active men and women get HPV at some point in their lives.

The results, published by the British Dental Health Foundation as part of its Mouth Cancer Action Month campaign in November, hopes to raise awareness of HPV which is considered to be the fastest growing cause of mouth cancer. Experts predict HPV will overtake the current main risk factors of smoking and drinking alcohol to excess within the next 10 years. Without early detection, an estimated 30,000 people in the UK will die from mouth cancer in the next decade.

Foundation Chief Executive Dr Nigel Carter said: “Smoking, alcohol abuse, poor diet and using smokeless tobacco are known risk factors for mouth cancer.  However, in recent years, HPV has emerged as a cause of mouth cancer and there is a clear gap in the public’s knowledge of HPV and its risks. The number of cases of mouth cancer is continuing to grow, more women are contracting the disease and there’s an increasing risk of younger people being affected, especially by HPV.

“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 ‘If in doubt, get checked out.’”

About Mouth Cancer

  • Around 60,000 people in the UK will be diagnosed with mouth cancer over the next decade.
  • Sufferers of the condition include American actor Michael Douglas, BBC Broadcaster Danny Baker and ex England and Manchester United Football Captain Bryan Robson.
  • Tobacco use is still considered the main cause of mouth cancer. According to the World Health Organisation, up to half of current smokers will die of a tobacco-related illness – including mouth cancer.
  • Drinking to excess can increase the risk of mouth cancer by four times.  Those who smoke and drink are up to 30 times more likely to develop mouth cancer.
  • Mouth cancer is twice more common in men than in women, though an increasing number of women are being diagnosed with the disease.
  • 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.

Poor diet is linked to a third of all cancer cases, and experts suggest the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), transmitted through oral sex, could overtake tobacco and alcohol as the main risk factor within the coming decade.