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Can Anal Sex Lead to Anal Cancer?

The Unexpected Health Risk of Having Unprotected Anal Sex

Anal sex can be pleasurable for everyone involved, but there are health risks to consider — as with any form of unprotected sex. One of the biggest concerns that comes with backdoor play is, unexpectedly, HPV. The human papillomavirus is most well-known for causing cervical cancer and can be prevented through pap smear screenings and the HPV vaccine. However, an HPV infection can make someone more prone to developing anal cancer.

"Unfortunately, HPV can also be transmitted to the anus through anal intercourse and cause cancer there," San Diego-based gynecologist Christine Sterling told POPSUGAR. Dr. Sterling added that the risk is even higher because routine screenings are not given for anal cancers.

According to the American Cancer Society, "Women with a history of cervical cancer (or pre-cancer) have an increased risk of anal cancer." It's not the anal warts themselves that cause cancer; there are over 150 subtypes of HPV, and one that is most likely to cause anal cancer is HPV-16.

Although HPV can be passed on during sexual activity (including oral sex), the virus can also be spread by skin-to-skin contact with an infected area. It's also possible for an HPV infection to spread from the genitals to the anus. To lower your chances of becoming infected with HPV, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated, getting routine screenings for cervical cancer, using latex condoms, and being in a "mutually monogamous relationship" (but we acknowledge that responsible sex goes beyond your relationship status).

If you're engaging in anal sex, be sure to use plenty of lube (as the anus doesn't self-lubricate), clean any involved parts before engaging in other sexual activity (such as oral or vaginal sex), and use contraception and/or protection.

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