Objectives The role of human papillomavirus (HPV) in some oral cancers has been reported in the news press, though little is known about the content of these articles. This study aimed to examine how frequently the link between HPV and oral cancer has been reported in the news press and to examine the content of these articles.
Design UK media articles were searched for articles relating to oral cancer and HPV in the database NexisUK. Of 854 articles identified by the initial search, 112 were eligible for inclusion (2002–2014) and content analysis was used to determine the main themes discussed.
Results Themes included actor Michael Douglas’ claim that his throat cancer was caused by HPV, the riskiness of oral sex, health information (including HPV as a cause of oral cancer) and the need to vaccinate boys against HPV. Many articles also referred to the link between HPV and cervical cancer and the increasing incidence of HPV-related oral cancer. The largest peak in articles occurred when Michael Douglas discussed his cancer (June 2013). Facts about HPV and references to research were provided in some articles.
Conclusions The link between HPV and oral cancer and the transmission of HPV via oral sex was regularly discussed, yet coverage often lacked detailed health information. This could increase awareness of the link between oral sex and HPV risk, but may also lead to public concern about oral sex as a sexual behaviour.
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