There are many different strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), 200 in fact, but most of us don’t know about any of them. We know what genital warts are but we don’t know they are caused by HPV. Women know that going for regular smear tests is important but they don’t know that HPV is a major reason for the cause of cell abnormalities. Those who do know about HPV do not know that it is causing an increasing number of oropharyngeal cancers, i.e, cancers of the mouth, tongue, throat, tonsils and pharynx. Furthermore, an increasing number of penile, vaginal and anal cancers are also HPV related. As alarming as this sounds, being aware of this risk is half the battle. Vaccinations are proving very successful but, unfortunately, only young girls have access to the vaccination publicly. Making choices regarding sexual behaviour and condom use can lower the risk but will not negate the chances. It is pretty hard to avoid HPV once you are sexually active, with 60% of the population contracting the virus at some stage of their lives, but it is important to know more about the virus than we currently do.
Certain strains of the virus cause genital warts and they usually form around mucous membranes, where the virus becomes active. It does not always become active in those who contract it and people can also get rid of the virus naturally over time. The good news regarding genital warts is that the strains causing the warts do not cause HPV related cancers. Warts can also be treated with creams or can be frozen off. Other strains however can cause cancer and these HPV related cancers are increasing dramatically.
The risk of contracting HPV is related to the number of sexual partners you have had and there is no way of preventing this virus unless you practice complete abstention or are vaccinated before you have ever had sex since one cannot be vaccinated after they have been exposed to the virus. It is worth noting that the virus can be contracted via oral sex too. Condom use and dental dam use can help to lower the risk of infection here also. Vaccinations are currently being given to young girls only since it is an expensive injection and, it is believed that men will ultimately become vaccinated via herd immunity over time, but this leaves out a huge number of the population, men who have sex with men. It is thought that 7,000 HPV related cancers are currently developing in men annually.
The only way to deal with a possible current infection is to continue to practice safe sex and to be on the look out for any abnormal sores or boils in the mouth that won’t go away, any lumps or bumps or trouble swallowing. More often than not, the virus will go away by itself within a period of two years. It is only in the case of long term infection that some of these cancers will develop but it is still good to know about the risk of infection and the potential consequences. Building up the immune system and giving up smoking and alcohol, or at least watching your intake of alcohol, will help your body to fight the virus. If HPV has not already been contracted then you can make choices about sexual health and safety from here on in.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention are among many of the organisations who recommend the vaccination of both girls and boys but national health systems, especially in Europe, are resisting the implementation because it is believed the vaccine is not cost effective. Australia is vaccinating both girls and boys and could perhaps be lowering the cost of treating HPV related cancers in years to come. Considering HPV related mouth and throat cancers are predicted to become more common than cervical cancer by 2020, it might be a worthy governmental investment. Until such a time as the virus is under control, it is advisable to practice safe sex and to see a doctor if any lingering or uncomfortable symptoms surface. Even with vaccination, it is vital that regular PAP smears are carried out considering no vaccination is guaranteed to be 100% effective.
You can read more about the HPV vaccine here.