HPV: Uncovering the Cancer Risk

HPV or Human Papilloma Virus  is the name for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body, for example, in your cervix, anus, mouth and throat.

cancer risk

According to Dr. Konstantin Zakashansky, a gynecological oncologist at Mount Sinai  “There are more than a hundred subtypes of HPV virus, some of which can cause warts on different parts of the body, while 15 are identified as high risk and may lead to cancer.”

More than one-half of all women between the ages of 14 and 59 catch a genital HPV

Almost 100% of cervical cancers are due to HPV, prevention and early detection of this virus is the key to fighting cervical cancer. HPV is so common that at least 50% of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.

Calculating the risk factor

  • Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of exposure to HPV.
  • Having more  number of sexual partners.
  • Touching your infected partner’s genitals and then your own.
  • Sharing sex toys with an infected person without disinfecting first.
  • A Weak Immune System– from diseases like HIV or as the result of taking immuno-suppressants or steroids. Smoking, too can suppress the  immune system.

While the majority of women clear HPV through their own immune system within two years, a minority develop a persistent infection. Over time, persistent HPV can lead to a precancerous condition called dysplasia, which most commonly occurs on the surface of the cervix. HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact.

HPV & Cervical Cancer

Almost 100% of Cervical Cancer cases are due to HPV. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that in 2012, approximately 12,170 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will occur in the U.S. and 4,210 women will die from the disease. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women; it is estimated to cause over 470,000 new cases and 233,000 deaths each year.

cancer risk

 Two new studies published in the journal Gynecologic Oncology find that screening for human papillomavirus infection alone provides more accurate results for both human papillomavirus infection and cervical cancer screening than the alternatives of a Pap or a co-test for these conditions.
Preventing HPV Exposure

HPV is a scary topic for many women, but when we catch it early, we can treat, cure and even prevent it from becoming a serious problem

  • Stay Informed by reliable sources: The CDC (cdc.gov/std/hpv/default.htm) is a reliable, patient-friendly resource.
  • Stick to regular Check-up. Start getting a yearly pelvic exam once you’re sexually active and initiate cervical cancer screening at age 21 years. How often you should get a Pap smear is variable, so talk to your doctor. The Pap smear, a test that collects and examines cervical cells, can catch the signs early, giving patient a chance to treat the disease (cancer) before it tumbles out of control. The HPV tests on the market are only used to help screen women at certain ages and with certain Pap test findings, for cervical cancer. There is no general test for men or women to check one’s overall “HPV status,” nor is there an approved HPV test to find HPV on the genitals or in the mouth or throat.
  • Get Vaccinated:  Since autumn 2008 a national vaccination programme of human papilloma virus (HPV) has been started for girls aged 12 and 13. The HPV vaccine is also being offered to girls aged 13-18 through a three-year catch-up programme.  The vaccine, Gardasil and Cervarix, is a series of three shots spaced over six months. The injections protect against infection by four types of HPV: types 16 and 18 — the two responsible for most cervical, anal, genital, and oropharynx cancers— and types 6 and 11— two that trigger most genital warts. The American Cancer Society recommends that women aged 19 to 26 should talk with their health care provider before making a decision about getting vaccinated. They should discuss the risks of previous HPV exposure and potential benefit from vaccination before deciding to get the vaccine.

  • Stop SmokingSmoking on persistence of HPV infection, leads to immune suppression. Presence of both,  HPV and smoking appear to alter the levels of certain cytokines which are involved in controlling abnormal cell growth. More likely, both mechanisms are contributory factors.
  • Practice Safe Sex: by using condoms. One study found that when condoms are used correctly they can lower the HPV infection rate in women by about 70% if they are used every time sex occurs.
  • Avoid having Sex at early age: Waiting to have sex until you are older can help you avoid HPV. It helps to limit your number of sexual partners and to avoid having sex with someone who has had many other sexual partners. Although the virus most often spreads between a man and a woman, HPV infection and cervical cancer are seen in women who have only had sex with other women.
  • Limit the number of sexual partners.  or choosing a partner who has had no or few prior sex partners.
  • Follow a Healthy Lifestyle: to boost immunity.

It is important to realize that neither vaccine provides complete protection against all cancer-causing types of HPV, so routine cervical cancer screening is still necessary.

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The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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