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The first national study of oral HPV or the human papillomavirus revealed that the infection is much more common than doctors originally suspected. HPV is linked to cancer and the study also revealed that it is mostly spread through sexual contact rather than through more casual contact like kissing.

HPV is best known for causing cervical cancer or genital warts. While there are vaccinations to prevent women from contracting genital HPV such as Gardasil, oral HPV is actually more common in men than in women. In fact, approximately 10% of men and only 3% of women have the oral virus. Doctors are unsure why men have the oral version more than women, but have also noted that men have a higher rate of throat cancer which is linked to the virus.

The infections were clearly linked to sex rather than kissing, although some parents may worry that their teenagers will spread the illness this way. Oral HPV was 8 times more common in people who had vaginal, oral or anal sex and this was even more of a problem for people who had multiple partners or those who started having oral sex as teenagers. Last year the Centers for Disease Control recommended that all teenagers, both boys and girls at ages 11 and 12, have a vaccine for HPV to prevent cervical, anal, vulvar or vaginal cancers. Furthermore, doctors urge those engaged in oral sex to use a protective barrier such as a condom or other device to prevent oral HPV. Compared to vaginal cancers, doctors have no way to detect throat cancer until the later stages.

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