The human papillomavirus is not only a much talked about sexually transmitted disease, its also widespread in the adult population.
“Its thought that 80% of all sexual active patients have been exposed to high risk HPV at some time in their life,” says Dr. Kevin Fleishman, an obstetrician/gynecologist on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.
“It’s really an asymptomatic infection. Most women who have HPV have absolutely no symptoms where as other STDs like herpes certainly has symptoms if there’s an outbreak,” says Dr. Fleishman.
The cancers most closely associated with HPV are found in women, in particular cervical cancer, which almost always stems from the virus.
“More and more cancers have been shown t be associated with the HPV virus, in addition to what we’ve always known about which is cervical cancer. Other female cancers are associated with the virus as well as anal cancer and certain oral cancers,” says Dr. Fleishman.
Sixty-five percent of vaginal cancers are linked to the HPV, along with 50% of vulvar cancers. Ninety-five percent of anal cancers and 60% of oropharyngeal cancers are connected to HPV, although they may also be linked to tobacco and alcohol, which is why doctors find such value in the HPV vaccine.
“If we prevent the transmission of the virus, then we can prevent the cancer,” says Dr. Fleishman.
The vaccine is recommended for girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 12, older if someone hasn’t had sexual contact.
“That’s when the person’s immunity is the strongest so you’ll have a much better response and a much better likelihood that the vaccine will take and protect the patient,” says Dr. Fleishman.
Given all population’s high exposure to high risk HPV, there is no way to predict who might go on to develop cancer.