Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

I realize I am an older woman who grew up in a time when premarital sex was less common. Sexual mores have changed greatly and and it is not my purpose to pass judgement on others. I am disturbed however every time I hear the rather giddy commercial on TV announcing that cervical cancer is caused by a virus (HPV) and that a vaccine is now available. This cause has been known for years, it is the vaccine that is new information. The thing that disturbs me is the lack of any information regarding the manner in which HPV is transmitted.

"Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection in the world, occurring at some point in up to 75% of sexually active women (Groopman 1999). Although HPV infection is widespread, few people even know they are infected because they seldom have noticeable symptoms."

It is estimated that for every 1 million women infected, 10% (about 100,000) will develop precancerous changes in their cervical tissue (dysplasia). Of these, about 8% (8,000 women) will develop early cancer limited to the outer layers of the cervical cells (carcinoma in situ [CIS]) and roughly 1,600 will develop invasive cancer unless the precancerous lesions and CIS are detected and treated.


If you listen to the recoommendation for administering the vaccine, it is advised to be given before a girl becomes sexually active. It seems to me that this is something young girls need to be told. There is so much in magazines and entertainment media that repeatedly tells young girls that sex is a recreational activity. It is treated so casually that very young girls become involved before they realize the dangers of STD's. Pregnancy is no longer a major fear because abortion is easy to obtain and the psychological and physical ramifications are rarely mentioned.

"Like many STIs, genital HPV infections often do not have signs and symptoms that can be seen or felt. One study sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) reported that almost half of women infected with HPV had no obvious symptoms. If you are infected but have no symptoms, you can still spread HPV to your sexual partner and/or develop complications from the virus."

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common causes of sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the world. More than 100 different types of HPV exist, most of which are harmless. About 30 types are spread through sexual contact. Some types of HPV cause genital warts—single or multiple bumps that appear in the genital areas of men and women including the vagina, cervix, vulva (area outside of the vagina), penis, and rectum. Many people infected with HPV have no symptoms.

There are high-risk and low-risk types of HPV. High-risk HPV may cause abnormal Pap smear results, and could lead to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, or penis. Low-risk HPV also may cause abnormal Pap results or genital warts.

The only way you can prevent getting an HPV infection is to avoid direct contact with the virus, which is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. If you or your sexual partner has warts that are visible in the genital area, you should avoid any sexual contact until the warts are treated.

Research studies have not confirmed that male latex condoms prevent transmission of HPV, but studies do suggest that using condoms may reduce your risk of developing diseases linked to HPV, such as genital warts and cervical cancer. Unfortunately, many people who don’t have symptoms don’t know that they can spread the virus to an uninfected partner.

Human Papillomavirus and Genital
Warts, NIAID Fact Sheet

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