Most people are familiar with HPV (Human Papillomavirus) as an STD that causes cervical cancer in women—but that’s only a a fraction of the story, and a new study shows that HPV transmission is much more broad.

Like many viruses, HPV transmission has the highest rate of transmission during sexual activities, when skin-to-skin contact (HPV is a skin infection) and fluid transmission make it easy for exposure to the virus to occur.

And so most people think of HPV transmission as being something that affects the genital region—but a new study has found that HPV transmission is almost as common from oral sex, and that 7% of people carry the virus in their mouths.

In general, about a quarter of the population carries an active HPV infection, while those in their early 20s are almost 50% likely to have HPV. Fortunately, like Hep C, although HPV transmission is common, 90% of people will be clear of the infection in two years, and those remaining have only about a 1% chance of having the type of infection that is high-risk for cancer.

Still, that’s not nothing—mouth and throat cancer rates are going up while smoking (and tobacco related cancers) goes down. Safe sexual practices are important at every age, and any activity that involves skin-to-skin contact or fluid transmission is a possibility for HPV transmission (although a very small percentage, even virgins in the study carried HPV).

Even with the worst form of HPV, it can take a decade or more for cancer cells to form. With regular visits to the doctor, pre-cancerous cells can be caught, and in most cases cancer can be prevented.

A weakened immune system from age, or, for throat and mouth cancer, from smoking, increases the likelihood of a persistent HPV infection that can lead to cancer. Supporting the immune system with good-health practices, including regular trips to the doctor, healthy eating, and regular sleep, helps prevent many types of illnesses.

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