Smoking and drinking are significant known risk factors for head and neck cancers.
Oral human papillomavirus HPV infection increases cancer risk by around 50 percent, according to the research team from Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.
HPV infection is more common among men than women, leading to an increased risk for men of head and neck cancers, a US study suggests.
incidence of head and neck cancers has significantly increased over the last three decades, and HPV has been directly implicated as an underlying cause.
HPV is linked to the development of a type of cancer known as oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC), but little is known about how the infection is spread, or how common it is in the mouth.
Researchers took mouth swabs and then used DNA testing to identify the HPV types people were carrying. They also asked detailed questions about their lifestyles, drug and alcohol use, and sexual behaviors.
Their findings indicate that sexual activity is the most common source of oral HPV infection.
They found that the virus was most commonly detected among people aged 30 to 34 (7.3 per cent) and those aged 60 to 64 (11.4 per cent).
The team led by Dr Maura Gillison, said their findings should influence research into the existing HPV vaccines and how effective they could be in preventing oral cancers.
Jessica Harris, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “As we learn how common HPV infections in the mouth are, and how they are passed on, we can understand more about who is most at risk and how people can reduce the risk of HPV-related cancers.
“Although there isn’t yet any evidence to show whether HPV vaccination is effective at preventing oral HPV infections, results like these are vital to help inform prevention program in the future.”