A snapshot of HPV is not a pretty picture. The first nationwide accounting found at least 50-percent of the sexually active population will have genital HPV in their lifetime.
“It’s really an asymptomatic infection. Most women who have HPV have absolutely no symptoms. Whereas other STDs, like herpes, certainly has symptoms if there’s an outbreak,” says Dr. Kevin Fleishman, gynecologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
Many of them clear without ever being detected. Some are more likely to turn bad. The human papilloma virus has more than 100 strains.
“Some are low risk, some are high risk. The high risk types are known to cause almost all cervical cancer,” says Dr. Fleishman.
This new study revealed a rising number of people with oral HPV. It’s estimated 16-million Americans between 14 and 69 are infected. This raises their risk for cancers of the mouth.
“Many, many of these cancers are caused by HPV and these are largely cancers of the tonsils or the base of the tongue. Way back in the back of the throat where you can’t see with a tongue blade,” says Dr. Phillip Andrews, otolaryngologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
The FDA approved an HPV vaccine for boys and girls. First aimed at preventing cervical cancer in girls, doctors now think it could also prevent 10,000 new cases of oral cancer each year. But fewer than half the people who could get the vaccine take even the first of 3 doses.
“The best time to do a vaccine is before somebody’s been exposed to what you’re vaccinating against. And therefore, when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases, the best time to vaccinate is before there’s been any sexual activity,” says Dr. Fleishman.
The findings concluded the rise in HPV cancer rates combined with low vaccination rates require an intervention of public education.