HPV really gets around

Since no one is giving up sex, here's a new reason to quit smoking.

New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that about 4% of people in the U.S. aged 14-69 have a high-risk type of human papilloma virus (HPV) in their mouth or throat. (High-risk types of HPV are associated with cancer.) The study concluded that any type of HPV infection in the mouth was probably related to sex, but they couldn’t say whether it was the result of kissing or oral sex. In certain groups of people—including those who’d had more than 20 sexual partners in their lifetime and those who smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day—as many as 1 in 5 had a high- or low-risk type of oral HPV infection. Mysteriously, men were about three times more likely to have any type of oral HPV infection, though the researchers couldn’t explain why.

Funny coincidence: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that they now recommend the HPV vaccine for boys aged 9-21. No one has studied whether the HPV vaccine protects against oral cancer, but given how common oral HPV infection seems to be, it may be time to answer that question.

And while we’re talking prevention, a Swedish study found that regular pap smears do indeed increase the chance of surviving cervical cancer. The researchers tracked 1,230 women who’d been diagnosed with cervical cancer for over 8 years. They showed that women whose cancers were found by a Pap test had a 92% cure rate, while women who were diagnosed because of symptoms of cancer only had a 66% cure rate.

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