Monday, January 30, 2012
HPV: Not Just for Genitals...
A recent study published in JAMA has created a buzz about the Human Papilloma Virus- HPV- again, but this time, the focus is on the mouth. Researches have noted that despite a significant decrease in smoking, head and neck cancer rates are not falling in proportion. It turns out that not only does HPV cause cancers in the genital area (cervical, penile, anal, etc.), but HPV also plays a significant role in causing head and neck cancers.
The study is titled "Prevalence of Oral HPV Infection in the United States, 2009-2010." Over 5000 people (ages 14-69) participated in the study, and it turns out that roughly 7% of them had HPV detected in their mouths. (They swished mouthwash in their mouths for 30 seconds, then this liquid was DNA analyzed for the the presence of different HPV strains.) Men had a higher rate- 10% in men vs. 3.6% in women, and infection was much less common in those people with no history of any type of sexual contact (less than 1% in "virgins" vs. 7.5% in others.) The good news is that the primary cancer causing strain- type 16- was only present at a 1% prevalence rate across the board. (Let's step aside and note here that with HPV, certain strains cause warts, and others cause cancers, so not all strains are equally medically dangerous.) How does the HPV even reach the mouth? Mostly through oral sex. Use barriers (condoms) for ALL sexual intimacy, please. 'Nuff said.
So, will the HPV vaccines (Gardasil and Cevarix) protect against head and neck cancers, too? We certainly hope so! As we get more "herd immunity" (which means more people are vaccinated than not, and so live disease is passed less and less) we hope to see not only a decrease in genital cancers, but hopefully a parallel decline in oral cancers, too.
BOTTOM LINE: HPV is COMMON, both "top" and "bottoms"...let's use our knowledge to prevent the cancers HPV can cause! For me, this is yet another good reason to immunize against HPV.