Couple Concerned about HPV

HPV can lead to cervical, head and neck, and other cancers in men and women.

Yes, viruses are implicated in cancer, and there is one particular virus that can lead to the development of more than half a dozen different types of cancers among men and women. What’s more, the majority of sexually active adults have been exposed to it. Human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted during sexual activity (including oral sex), is associated with cervical, anal, penile, vaginal, vulvar, and head and neck cancers, and HPV-related cancers are on the rise.

“We are seeing many new cases of HPV-related cancer among young and otherwise healthy adults,” said Dr. Robert Haddad, Director of the Head and Neck Oncology Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

New clinical trials led by specialists in the Head and Neck Oncology Center are available for people with HPV-related head and neck cancers. There is no HPV screening in men, but women can be tested for certain strains of HPV and should undergo Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer – which is almost always caused by HPV. Both men and women should have regular annual physical exams and discuss any concerning changes with their doctor. Treatment for HPV-related cancers, like other cancers, is most effective when cancers are caught early, so it also is important to recognize cancer symptoms.

“Because Pap tests identify changes in the cells of the cervix before cancer develops, or diagnose cervical cancer at an early stage, they have saved many lives,” said Dr. Paula Johnson, Chief of the Division of Women’s Health and Executive Director of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology. “The best way to protect against HPV infection is to get vaccinated before becoming sexually active.”

The risk of HPV infection can be greatly reduced among adolescents and young adults through the use of HPV vaccines, which currently are available for HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18 – strains of HPV that are associated with cervical, vaginal, vulvar, and oropharyngeal cancers, as well as genital warts. Gardasil is approved for females and males ages 9 through 25 years of age and protects against HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18. Cervarix, available for females ages 9 through 25 years of age, protects against HPV types 16 and 18.

–  Jessica F

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