HPV: Common virus linked to cancers

Posted at 5:55 PM, Apr 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-17 18:55:50-04

The Human Papilloma Virus is as common as the cold that makes us sniffle and sneeze. However, HPV spreads with far more serious, and even fatal, consequences.

Scientists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined HPV causes cancer – more than one kind – in women and men.

All it takes to spread the virus is a simple kiss, passionate touching or sexual intercourse. Doctors at Cancer Treatment Centers of America–Southwestern Campus in Tulsa, say most people will not even know they are infected and their immune systems clear the virus easily. However, others are not so fortunate and the virus settles deeply into their cells.

"When that happens, the virus is able to incorporate itself in the person's DNA,” said Brad Mons, MD, CTCA head and neck surgeon. “And that's what leads to cancer later on in their life."

Studies show HPV is so common, 90-percent of us will be exposed in our lifetime. The virus has been linked to cervical cancer in women and now suspected in numerous other cancers such as throat, pharyngeal, anal, etc. which can be detected with a pap smear test. While that test can help doctors detect cervical cancer early, giving patients their best chance at survival, the pap smear is the only test available right now that can detect a cancer caused by HPV.

"And it can cause anything from warts on the skin and back of the throat all the way to head and neck cancers as we are discovering," Dr. Mons added.

Researchers are working on new screening techniques to detect other cancers early in women and men. Since no new options are ready yet, doctors say the key to fending off this common virus is the protection provided by the HPV vaccine.

"So, the real important thing is how are you going to not get cancer from this exposure to the human papilloma virus?" asked David McIntosh, MD, gynecologic oncologist at CTCA in Tulsa. As a specialist in women’s reproductive cancers, Dr. McIntosh sees the worst from HPV. "Losing a patient to cervical cancer and knowing that there's a vaccine out there that could have prevented it is just profoundly sad."

These cancer specialists want parents to know the HPV vaccine offers the best protection prior to exposure – so it is important to administer the two or three shot combination to boys and girls by age 11 or 12. By protecting children with the vaccines earlier, Dr. Mons says their immune systems get stronger and children will be less likely to develop cancers at a later date.

Dr. McIntosh summed it up by saying, “I think a vaccine that prevents cancer would be a wonderful thing to do for someone you love."

Cancer Treatment Centers of America – Southwestern campus in Tulsa is hosting a free, informational event at the Circle Cinema in Tulsa on Tuesday, April 24th. The documentary “Someone You Love: The HPV Epidemic” will be shown, followed by Dr. Brad Mons and Dr. David McIntosh answering questions from the audience.

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