The Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is group of 150 related viruses that are sectioned by type, and takes its name from the warts it can cause in some cases. Some types of HPV can lead to cancer of the mouth or throat or the anus and rectum. In males, HPV can lead to penile cancer while in females it can cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar HPV cancers.
HPV is primarily transmitted through close skin-to-skin contact such as vaginal, anal, or oral sex. The virus itself is so common that most adult men and women will get some strain of it at some point in their lives. Symptoms of the type that cause cancer and warts often take a long time to develop making the inception date of the HPV infection difficult to trace. Most cases of HPV resolve on their own; however, when they do not, they can lead to warts and then, subsequently, to highly malignant, yet what many experts believe, preventable cancers.
In the US alone, there are 39,800 cases of cancer are found in parts of the body where HPV can be found. Of those cases, experts believe HPV causes about 31,500 of them.
Because 80 million people, or 1 in 4, are infected with some form of HPV, experts believe vaccination is a wise preventative measure. The good news is that for certain people, these vaccines can virtually eliminate the risk of certain cancers caused by the HPV virus including cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, rectum, and oropharynx (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).
Per the CDC website, “HPV vaccines work extremely well. Clinical trials showed HPV vaccines provide close to 100% protection against cervical precancers and genital warts. Since the first HPV vaccine was recommended in 2006, there has been a 64% reduction in vaccine-type HPV infections among teen girls in the United States. Studies have shown that fewer teens are getting genital warts and cervical precancers are decreasing.”
The CDC advises that boys and girls as young as 11 and 12 years of age get an HPV vaccine, to be delivered in two administrations typically 6 months apart. Young adults through age 26 should consider getting an HPV vaccine if they have not already done so.
The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for the following people if they have not already received one:
- young men who have sex with men, including young men who identify as gay or bisexual or who intend to have sex with men through age 26
- young adults who are transgender through age 26
- young adults with certain immunocompromising conditions (including HIV) through age 26
Most HPV infections resolve themselves within two years; however others do not. Those that don’t can lead to cancer. As an example, approximately 5,229 people in the United States are diagnosed with anal cancer every year. Of those cases, 91% are believed to be caused primarily by HPV infection.
The HPV vaccine is at the forefront of changing those statistics and, consequently, saving lives. The HPV vaccine is an instance of an ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure. If you would like to learn more about HPV and the vaccine, visit the CDC website here. And, as always, if you have questions, your doctor is the best source to offer you advice for your particular situation. For help paying for treatment and other out-of-pocket expenses relating to a cancer diagnosis, see this link for free resources.