HPV, aka Human Papillomavirus, usually impacts young woman, but new studies are showing that HPV can cause cancer in men who engage in oral sex, especially with multiple women. The cases are starting to hit epidemic status, doctors say.
HPV is passed through skin-to-skin contact, not fluids. Besides conventional sex, oral sex and even deep French kissing may spread the virus.
Doctors are sounding the alarm, but have stopped short of advising men to abstain.
"This is not a call to stop having oral sex," said Dr. Mark D. DeLacure, a head and neck surgeon at NYU's Langone Medical Center. "People have to continue living their lives, however we make the best choices when we know all the risks."
Doctors also have this advice: Don't panic.
Patients with HPV even the cancer-causing strain may never develop cancer and may never transmit the virus to a partner.
The vast majority of individuals have immune systems that recognize the virus as a threat, and easily defeat it.
Doctors instead recommend vigilance.
The important issue is persistence meaning attention to how long an unusual symptom like a lump has lasted. When an abnormality persists for longer than 14 to 21 days, it's time to see an expert.
"If you've got a sore tonsil that is still a problem after a couple of weeks, and particularly if it's localized to one side, I would say that's sign it's time to talk to a doctor," said DeLacure.
And talk to the person who sees your mouth the most: Your dentist.
Dentists, too, are becoming more aware of HPV and its role in the development of oral cancer.
A good dentist will know what to look for and where to look for it.