Diagnosis and treatment of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) significantly impact sexual behavior regardless of human papillomavirus (HPV) status, a study published in the journal Cancer has shown.1 

Sexual behavior and HPV infection are associated with risk for developing oropharyngeal cancer; however, the effects of OSCC diagnosis and treatment on sexual behavior and subsequent relationship stress remain unknown.

To evaluate the impact of OSCC diagnosis and treatment on sexual behavior and relationship stress with respect to HPV status, researchers enrolled 262 patients with OSCC and 81 partners. Among the patients, 54.2% had HPV-positive disease and 45.8% had HPV-negative disease. Patients and partners completed surveys assessing HPV transmission and concerns about health consequences, relationship distress, and sexual behavior.

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Results showed that patients infrequently reported relationship distress, with 69% of patients feeling that their relationship had strengthened since their cancer diagnosis.

However, 25% of patients with HPV-positive disease and 14% of their partners reported feeling guilty or responsible for the diagnosis of a cancer caused by HPV. Half of patients had concerns over sexual, but not nonsexual, HPV transmission to partners.

Investigators also found that abstinence from vaginal sex significantly increased from 10% at baseline to 34% at 6 months (P <.01) and abstinence from oral sex increased from 25% to 80% (P <.01). Declines in the frequency of vaginal and oral sexual behaviors occurred irrespective of tumor HPV status.

The findings ultimately suggest that a diagnosis of oropharyngeal cancer can have significant negative effects on sexual behavior. Clinical trials evaluating treatments for OSCC should include sexual behavior as a quality-of-life outcome.


1. Taberna M, Inglehart R, Pickard RK, et al. Significant changes in sexual behavior after a diagnosis of human papillomavirus-positive and human papillomavirus-negative oral cancer. Cancer. 2017 Feb 14. doi: 10.1002/cncr.30564 [Epub ahead of print]