health

Experts now believe there could a link between 'deep kissing' and cancer.

If you’re familiar with HPV at all, then you probably know it as the sexually transmitted disease you or your kids were vaccinated against in high school.

That was all it was to Queensland mum Carly Mulheran, who thought very little of the human papillomavirus – until it had devastating impacts on her life.

Sharing her story with SBS’s The Feed, Carly explained how her husband Jake Simpson, father to her son Noah, suddenly went from 22 and healthy to terminally ill.

Jake had been suffering painful toothaches and noticed a lump in the back of his mouth, but was completely surprised when he was diagnosed with stage four head and neck cancer in July 2015.

“We didn’t know what any of it meant. He was so young and healthy, we couldn’t believe it,” Carly said.

Jake started treatment immediately, but sadly the cancer spread to his lungs. He died less than a year later in April 2016.

One of the biggest shocks to Carly was what had most likely caused Jake’s cancer – HPV.

“Jake wasn’t tested for HPV because it was too aggressive from the day one, but that age bracket that he fell in, more than likely, the cause was HPV.”

jake-simpson-throat-cancer
Jake rapidly declined after his diagnosis. Image: Facebook.

These HPV-caused cancers of the back of the throat, known as oropharyngeal cancers, are on the rise in young men, The Feed reports. And while doctors had first believed it was only transmitted through oral sex, some now believe "deep kissing" could be all it takes.

This would come as a shock to many Australians, who are taught about HPV's links to cervical cancer, but are largely not warned about the virus's links to oropharyngeal cancer.

In fact, oncologist Brett Hughes told The Feed that oropharyngeal cancers are now the most common HPV-related cancer in Australia, and the rising rates aren't expected to peak until into the 2030s.

So, what's being done about HPV?

The good news is that since 2013, high-school-aged girls and boys have been vaccinated against HPV as part of the government's national immunisation program. And while it's thought around four in five Australians contract HPV, it leaves most people's systems without harming them.

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However, there is no vaccination for adults, no way of preventing HPV-infected adults from developing these cancers and no way of testing for HPV in throats.

The best bet is early intervention - something Jake Simpson believed in so much he donated $20,000 for research into ways to improve it.

Researchers are now working on a test that can be done by a GP or dentist which would detect or monitor HPV status - similar to the way Pap tests check for its presence in a patient's cervix. (Something which, by the way, women should still be getting regularly).

But until that oral test is ready for public use - which could be more than five years away - all Australians can do is be vigilant about their health and go see a doctor if they notice anything is wrong.

You can watch The Feed's full report here.

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