Cervical Cancer Awareness month sheds light on a controversial virus.

January is cervical cancer awareness month, which brings up a controversial topic- HPV, short for human papillomavirus. HPV is often the culprit for cervical and oropharyngeal cancer cases globally. Why is it controversial? Many associate the over 150 strains HPV with sexual intercourse, causing it to be viewed as an STD (sexually transmitted disease), taboo in many communities.

The truth, HPV is spread by both skin-to-skin and sexual contact. Someone can be infected for years prior to any signs or symptoms occurring. The cancer strains from HPV are typically slow growing, and not everyone will be affected. More often than not, HPV will go away on its own within two years, but when it does not, it can result in genital warts or cancer of the cervix, throat, vulva, vagina, penis, or anus.

According to the Intermountain West HPV Vaccine Coalition, 25 percent of the U.S. population have some kind of HPV. That is approximately 79 million people. HPV causes 30,700 cancers in men and women every year in the United States.

Merck has produced a cancer-prevention vaccine, Gardasil 9, to combat 90% of the cancer-causing strains of HPV. There are 40 types of cancer-causing HPV strains, according to Dr. Deanna Kepka (Assistant Professor College of Nursing & Huntsman Cancer Institute- University of Utah). In the United States, it is estimated that 13,420 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed and about 4,170 women will die from the disease in 2018. 1 in 100 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in their lifetime.

Spreading through contact of the skin, HPV is a great concern for 15-24 year olds. Of the 14 million new HPV infections in United States each year, fifty percent of them occur in this age group. There is no way to test males for HPV, so you will never know if you have been exposed to the virus. Females can be tested through a Pap test (Papanicolaou). 1 in 4 females will have an abnormal pap test, having to endure the emotional stress of waiting 6 months to be retested to know if they have potential for cancer caused by HPV.

Cervical Cancer was once the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S. Those numbers have reduced due to the Pap Test and the vaccine.

Today there is an increased concern for males and HPV. The increased number of oropharyngeal cancers from HPV are on the rise. This is cancer of the throat, tongue, and/or tonsils. This is the fastest growing segment HPV-related cancer. (Actor Michael Douglas is a survivor from HPV-related throat cancer.)  

HPV, although controversial, is not something to skim over. It is still a major concern in society. Today, dentists are being trained to discover throat and mouth HPV related signs in patients. With new research and understanding of the skin’s microbiome, hopefully we will discover more answers in how viruses such as HPV can thrive for thousands of years as a silent killer.

For more information on HPV visit HPV.com.

For more information on Gaurdasil 9

Sources: CDC.gov, Cancer.org, Intermountain West HPV Coalition, HPV.com.