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Tobacco Use And Viral Infection Causing Oral Cancers Are Related

Update Date: Oct 08, 2014 08:51 AM EDT

Researchers have shown a strong association between tobacco use or exposure and infection with oral human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV16). HPV16 is the sexually transmitted virus responsible for mouth and throat cancers worldwide. 

Statistics suggest that such cancers have increased 225 percent in the United States over the past two decades. 

 "The practice of oral sex is common, but this cancer is rare. So there must be cofactors in the process that explain why some people develop persistent HPV16 infections and HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancers when most other people don't," said Gypsyamber D'Souza, Ph.D., M.S., M.P.H., an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, in the press release.

According to research, HPV16 infection is more common among people who have recently used or been exposed to tobacco, independent of their sexual behavior. 

"It appears that tobacco exposure increases the likelihood of having oral HPV16 infection, and although we do not yet know why, we suspect that the virus may not be cleared from the body as easily in people who use tobacco," D'Souza said in the press release. 

Researchers also underscored that although the study shows an independent relationship between tobacco and HPV16 infection, they cannot fully rule out the possibility that people who use more tobacco might have more oral sex, and therefore have a higher risk of HPV16 infection. 

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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