Human papillomavirus (HPV) is known as the common cold of sexual activity! It’s as easy to catch and doesn’t have a real cure – and that’s a scary thought. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection with no real symptoms except for warts in some cases. It generally goes away by itself, but certain types of HPV can cause severe illness, including cancer.
Many sexually active people carry the low-risk HPV without even knowing it. Genital warts, the only visible symptom in some cases, are caused by low-risk types of HPV, which do not cause cancer.
The high-risk HPV is the dangerous variant. About 70% of cancers of the cervix, vagina, and anus are caused by HPV-16 or -18 variant and so are 30–40% of cancers of the vulva, penis, and oropharynx. Other cancers such as non-melanoma skin cancer and cancer of the conjunctiva have also been linked to HPV. Thankfully, just the presence of HPV is not enough to cause cancer. For the cervical infection to progress to cancer, a co-factor such as long-term use of hormonal contraceptives, tobacco smoking, or co-infection with a virus like HIV or herpes must be present. Studies have determined that the presence of the virus combined with the effect of such powerful compounds on the body can cause cancerous cells to be formed.1
Help is at hand in the form of the HPV vaccine. It protects against the two high-risk HPV types (HPV-16 and -18), which cause 70% of cervical cancers in women and 90% of all HPV-related cancers in men. It also protects against two low-risk HPV types, which cause 90% of genital warts. The vaccine has been available since 2006 and recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) as a routine vaccine for all adolescent girls aged 11 to 12 years. The vaccine is most effective at this stage, before sexual activity has commenced and when the body produces more antibodies.2
What About the Boys?
In 2011, the ACIP also recommended that the vaccine form a part of the routine vaccination for adolescent boys aged 11 or 12 years. Unfortunately only 22% of young boys in the United States are getting the three-dose shot in their adolescent years. The main reason – they don’t know that they should get it! A study on HPV vaccination initiation among males also highlights this. Only 14% of all males are getting this easy cancer prevention shot, which is way below state and national averages.3
From all angles, this is a no-brainer. Simple shots that can prevent one of the most common sexually transmitted infections leading to cancer, and yet the uptake is low. Since the official push in 2006, women have been more diligent about exercising this option. The numbers also show that, compared to the pre-vaccine years, the prevalence of HPV in women has definitely dropped.4
Time to spread the word that an effective HPV vaccine exists for young girls and boys and can help counter infections and cancers caused by HPV.
|↑1||Munoz, Nubia, Xavier Castellsagué, Amy Berrington de González, and Lutz Gissmann. “HPV in the etiology of human cancer.” Vaccine 24 (2006): S1-S10.|
|↑2||Stokley, Shannon, Jenny Jeyarajah, David Yankey, Maria Cano, Julianne Gee, Jill Roark, R. C. Curtis, and Lauri Markowitz. “Human papillomavirus vaccination coverage among adolescents, 2007-2013, and postlicensure vaccine safety monitoring, 2006-2014–United States.” MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report 63, no. 29 (2014): 620-624.|
|↑3||Clarke, Megan, Darcy F. Phelan-Emrick, Francesca Coutinho, Betty Chou, and Corinne E. Joshu. “Factors associated with HPV vaccine initiation among males aged 11-26 years attending outpatient clinics in the Baltimore Metro Area during 2012-2013.” Cancer Research 75, no. 15 Supplement (2015): 5591-5591.|
|↑4||Markowitz, Lauri E., Susan Hariri, Carol Lin, Eileen F. Dunne, Martin Steinau, Geraldine McQuillan, and Elizabeth R. Unger. “Reduction in human papillomavirus (HPV) prevalence among young women following HPV vaccine introduction in the United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, 2003–2010.” Journal of Infectious Diseases (2013): jit192.|