Harvard Men's Health Watch

Spread of throat cancer virus to partners is uncommon

Men infected with the oral human papillomavirus (HPV) rarely transmit it to their spouses or partners, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Cancers of the mouth and upper airways from HPV are rising in men. Those who learn they harbor the virus—often after being diagnosed with an oral cancer—may be fearful of spreading it to their partners through kissing or other intimate contact. The study suggests that this doesn't happen often.

The study involved 164 people being treated for HPV-positive cancer at four different head-and-neck cancer clinics in four states. Their partners, mostly women, were checked for HPV. Most had previously engaged in oral sex with their partners, which is one way the virus could spread.

Saliva samples from the partners did not contain high levels of DNA from the virus. About 1.2% of the partners had oral HPV, which is nearly the same as the rate of infection in the general population (1.3%).

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