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Let's talk about sex

BY JON GARINN | JUNE 1, 2013

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Sex is one topic that always seems to generate interest, even at a cancer research conference. Among the many studies presented at this year's annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology: a first-of-its-kind examination of spouses or long-term partners of patients with HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancers, which are located at the tongue, tonsils, pharynx and soft palate.

Gypsyamber D'Souza, an associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the study's lead author, says fear of transmitting the virus can cause couples anxiety, resulting in reduced sexual intimacy and even divorce. She and her colleagues set out to learn whether sexual partners were at increased risk of infection from the human papilloma virus and if they needed to change their sexual behaviors.

The study found that the spouses or partners of patients with HPV-positive oral cancers were no more at risk of developing the disease than the general population.

Taking oral rinse samples from 166 participants with HPV-positive oral cancer and 94 of their spouses or partners, the researchers tested the samples for HPV DNA. After one year, samples were again taken and tested. The prevalence of HPV infection among partners (6.5 percent) was comparable to the general population.

Nearly all sexually active people will be infected with at least one type of HPV in their lifetime, even if they have only one sexual partner. The majority of infections do not develop into cancer, and most people exposed to the virus manage to "clear it," according to D'Souza.

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