The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a double stranded DNA virus that infects only humans. There are over 100 types and subsets show a preference for incorporating into either cutaneous tissue or the mucosal of the oral or genital regions. The consequences for genital infection are varied, depending on the genotype and the individualís ability to fight off the infection.
HPV is transmitted by skin-to-skin and genital-to-genital contact. Cutaneous warts, skin cancer, anogenital warts, cervical cancer, anal cancer, genital cancers and oropharyngeal warts and cancer can result. The infection is quite common but the consequences are less frequent. It is estimated that 75-80% of sexually active adults will acquire an HPV infection of the genital tract. The vast majority clears this infection such that by age 30 the prevalence of the infection has dropped dramatically. It is only the small percentage with persistent infection that is at risk of the more serious consequence: cancer.
There are over 35 specific types, which infects the genital tract. These are divided into low-risk and high-risk types. The high-risk types are associated with the development of severe dysplasia (CIN 2-3) and cervical cancer. The types are: 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 58, 59 and 68. The low-risk types are not associated with the development of cervical cancer but can cause other problems. Genital warts also referred to as condylomata acuminata and precancerous changes in the vulvar, anus and birth canal result from these infections.
HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for over 75% of the cervical cancers. HPV types 6 and 11 cause over 90% of the genital warts. Abnormal pap smears due to HPV infection and genital warts are a major cause for gynecologic office visits as well as emotional distress. Although less common, cancer of the anus and oropharynx can also result from these infections. HPV infection can place a significant burden on the affected individual, potentially even causing death if unrecognized and untreated.
The knowledge that HPV causes cervical, genital and oropharngyeal cancers has paved the way for more effective screening and prevention. The pap smear and appropriate management of abnormalities has lead to a significant reduction in cervical cancer incidence over the past 3-4 decades. The development of the HPV vaccine has now provided us with a new first line weapon in the fight against cervical and other cancers.
I hope this article has provided you with information that will help you make wise choices, so you may:
Live healthy, live well and live long!