There are more than 200 types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Most types of HPV are asymptomatic; however, an estimated 40 of these strains can affect the genital area with the development of genital warts or even cancer. HPV types 6 and 11 cause 90% of genital warts, and types 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58 result in an estimated 44,000 cases of cancer in the United States annually due to their oncogenic nature.
The following are HPV related cancers:
- Cervical cancer, which is caused by HPV-16 and HPV-18. Smoking can increase the risk of cervical cancer for women who have HPV.
- Oral cancer, which can be localized to the mouth, tongue, or oropharynx. Oral cancer is increasing in prevalence in both men and women.
- Other cancers such as anal cancer and vulvar cancer in women, and penile cancer in men are also associated with HPV.
Should I get the HPV vaccine?
There is no cure for HPV, so prevention is very important to avoid contraction. People ages 9 to 45 are recommended to take the vaccine to protect against genital warts and HPV strains that cause cancer. HPV vaccine is given in a series of three shots. The second shot is given 2 months after the first shot and the third one is given 4 months after the second. People ages 9-14 are given two shots with a 6-month gap in between. The HPV vaccine has been shown to be effective, a study by Jama network reports. Compared to unvaccinated women, infection with HPV type 6,11, 16, and 18 were less prevalent among women who received 1 dose, 2 doses, or 3 doses. In addition, CDC reports that the HPV vaccination can prevent more than 32,000 cases of cancer annually by direct prevention of the HPV strains that cause it. The vaccine’s effectiveness is also backed by 12 years of monitoring and research.
The Jama Network additionally shows no statistical difference between women who received 1 dose of the HPV vaccine versus the entire series, and concludes that both groups had similar protection to the virus. There were a few limitations to the study in terms of lacking cross-sectional data; however, there are clinical trials currently in the works of evaluating the efficacy of a single dose.
Most people who have high-risk HPV will never show signs of infection unless it progresses to severe health problems. Also, HPV vaccine doesn’t protect against all HPV strains, so having regular check-ups and being aware of diagnostic measures is crucial. Getting a pap smear test will allow detection and early monitoring of any abnormal cells in your cervix before they become cancerous. There’s also an HPV test that is sometimes recommended as a follow up to a pap test. During the pap and HPV test, a doctor or nurse will use a speculum to open up the vaginal canal, and then a special brush to remove a few cells from the cervix. The cells are then sent to a lab for testing. There may be light scratching and pressure during this test, but a diagnosis with this test is all worth the few minutes of slight discomfort. If you get a positive HPV test, it does not mean you have cancer — the test signifies that you have a strain of HPV that could lead to cancer down the road.
Discuss with your healthcare provider if you have any further questions or concerns regarding HPV, or for more information on the vaccine and diagnostic testing.
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