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Sex virus link to rise in mouth cancers

By Jennifer O'Mahony

Oral cancer cases have risen above 6,000 a year for the first time, figures reveal today.

Cancer Research UK has attributed the increase to rising rates of the human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, especially through high-risk strains of the sexually transmitted virus.

Two thirds of the 6,200 cases diagnosed in the UK in 2011 were men. Experts say men are more likely to smoke and drink heavily, both significant risk factors in oral cancer. But the increase may also be due to rising rates of the HPV infection.

Up to eight in 10 Britons will contract HPV at some point in their lives. It is usually harmless.

Just a few strains cause problems.

But one in particular, HPV-16, is known to cause cell changes which could develop into cancer.

There were particularly sharp rises in rates of cancers at the base of the tongue (an almost 90% increase) and tonsils (around a 70% increase).

Sara Hiom, director of information at Cancer Research UK, said: “It's worrying to see such a big rise in oral cancer rates.”

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