The human papillomavirus has the dubious distinction of being the sexually transmitted disease you are most likely to get. It’s also the leading cause of cervical cancer. January has, somewhat arbitrarily, been dubbed Cervical Health Awareness Month (also National Hobby Month and Hot Tea Month, the last at least for good reason). While cervical cancer is the disease most commonly associated with HPV, a recent report from the American Cancer Society emphasizes that HPV’s threat is not gender-specific or organ-specific. While cervical cancer cases are in decline (as are general cancer rates), cancers linked to HPV are on the rise.

The increasing prevalence of HPV-linked cancers should permanently alter our limited conception of the disease as chiefly a women’s issue. Oropharyngeal (which I’ll be vulgarizing as “oral”) and anal HPV-related cancers (which particularly afflict men who have sex with men) are becoming more common. Oral malignancies account for 37.3 percent of HPV-related cancers, edging out cervical cancer, which makes up 32.7 percent. For men, oral cancers make up 78.2 percent of total HPV-related cancer incidences, and they account for 11.6 percent of cases among women. The death rate for oral cancer is three times higher than that for cervical cancer. (About 40 percent of penile cancer cases are HPV-related, but rates of the disease have basically remained static.)

Historically, most oral cancer cases were caused by smoking and heavy drinking and tended to manifest later in life. But even though fewer Americans indulge in these vices today, more of them are engaging in oral sex. Oral cancer rates have risen and begun showing up in younger individuals who, sensibly, seem to prefer oral sex to cigarettes. As the Oral Cancer Foundation notes, HPV strain 16 “is conclusively implicated in the increasing incidence of young non-smoking oral cancer patients.” If the disease is detected, the survival rate for HPV-related oral cancer is higher than for the alcohol- and tobacco-correlated versions. But HPV-related cases are often harder to catch because the disease occurs deeper in the mouth (the base of the tongue is a common location), and the warning signs are not as obvious.

Read it at Slate.