UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Exploring lay public and dental professional knowledge around HPV transmission via oral sex and oral cancer development Brondani, Mario; Siqueira, Adriana B; Alves, Claudia M C


Background: Human papillomavirus (HPV) has been associated with certain types of oropharyngeal cancers and yet, the level of knowledge that dental professionals and the lay public have in terms of HPV transmission, oral sexual activities, and oral cancer development needs exploration. The aim of this study was to assess the knowledge held by practicing dental professionals as well as the lay public regarding Human Papillomavirus (HPV) transmission through oral sex and subsequent oropharyngeal cancer development. Methods: Textual data were collected from a public forum with dental professionals in. Vancouver, who discussed the HPV-oral sex-oral cancer triad, and from survey data gathered from 212 lay public participants (also in Vancouver) who answered a 13-item questionnaire on the perceived risks of oral sex in terms of HPV infection and oropharyngeal cancer development. The data were analyzed statistically by age group, gender, and sexual orientation using descriptive statistics, while an ANOVA test was used to compare variation in the responses to the survey (p-value = 0.05). Results: The forum engaged 46 health care professionals, many of whom were aware of the potential risks for head and neck cancer development due to HPV infection, while also questioning “how to effectively talk about HPV with patients.” The survey revealed that 34.5% of the participants believed that oral sex is an activity with no or low risk for the transmission of HPV, while 84% of participants believed the same sexual practices were of low or no-risk for HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) transmission. Most participants (82%) never discussed oral sexual activities with their physicians or dentists/dental hygienists. Conclusions: The general public remains mostly unaware of the potential links between HPV infection and oropharyngeal cancer. Physicians and dental providers should discuss oral sexual practice with their patients to raise awareness.

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