June 02, 2013

Can HPV be Caught by Kissing Someone with HPV Throat Cancer?

HPV transmitted by oral sex is the leading cause of oral and throat cancer now surpassing throat cancer due to tobacco products and alcohol. And for spouses/partners of patients diagnosed with HPV throat cancer, the main concern is whether it is "contagious".

After all, if HPV is transmittable by oral sex, than it would seem that kissing can also transfer HPV to the partner as well.

Well, a small Johns Hopkins study suggests that intimately kissing someone who has HPV oropharyngeal cancer does NOT lead to a new HPV infection in the mouth or throat in the partner. Among 93 partners of 164 patients, prevalence of HPV infection in the throat was no higher than would have been expected. Specifically, about 1.2% had HPV which is equivalent to what one would find in couples without history of HPV throat cancer (1.3%). There were only six male partners, none of whom had oral infection with HPV.

Please keep in mind that this study is far from definitive and further study is required before one can say with absolute certainty that kissing and other intimate activities are totally safe. After all, oral sex leading to HPV infection of the mouth is a relatively recent discovery. Who is to say that with enough time and study, even kissing may eventually be found to do the same???

In fact, a larger study performed at McGill University does suggest that HPV can potentially be transmitted by kissing.

Of note, our office does offer the HPV spit test to see if HPV is present in the mouth/throat.

Oral Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection in HPV-Positive Patients With Oropharyngeal Cancer and Their Partners. Journal of Clinical Oncology. April 28, 2014, doi: 10.1200/JCO.2014.55.1341

Sexual Transmission of Oral Human Papillomavirus Infection among Men. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, November 2014 DOI: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-14-0386

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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