It’s time to stop thinking of HPV as a “women’s disease.” Yes, the human papillomavirus causes most cases of cervical cancer, which is expected to kill more than 4,000 American women this year, according to the American Cancer Society. But it causes several other types of cancer as well, with increasing numbers of oropharyngeal cancer coming from HPV.
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and in this case, the “awareness” is especially important. Far too few people are aware of the increasingly problematic role of vaccine-preventable HPV in oropharyngeal cancer.
It used to be that this cancer was most commonly caused by smoking, as a recent article in the Omaha World-Herald reports. Now the most common cause is HPV.
In fact, more than 70 percent of such cases are caused by the virus.
As the article points out:
Historically, cervical cancer was the most common type of HPV-related cancer. That was the case in 1999, according to a report the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in August. More than 13,000 cases of cervical cancer were documented that year, compared with nearly 9,400 cases of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer.
But by 2015, the HPV-related throat cancers doubled — topping 18,900 — and eclipsed the year’s nearly 11,800 cases of cervical cancer.
And oropharyngeal cancer occurs far more often in men than women. According to Cancer.Net:
This year, an estimated 51,540 adults (37,160 men and 14,380 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with oral and oropharyngeal cancer. Rates of these cancers are more than twice as high in men as in women. Cancer of the oral cavity is the eighth most common cancer among men.
Close to 10,000 Americans are expected to die this year of oropharyngeal cancer, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation – more than twice as many as will die of cervical cancer.
Clearly, this message needs to reach more vaccine-hesitant parents. As disturbingly low as HPV vaccination rates are for preteen and teenage girls, they are even worse for boys in those age groups.
According to the CDC, about 57 percent of 16-year-old girls are up to date on their two-dose HPV vaccination. That number was only 48 percent for boys the same age. Texas does disappointingly worse than this; among 13-to-17-year-old boys and girls, less than 40 percent are up to date on this lifesaving vaccine.
In addition to oropharyngeal cancer, HPV in men can cause cancers of the penis and anus.
Need another reason to avoid HPV infection? One appears to be coming from research labs. A new study found evidence of a link between heart disease and HPV.
As reported by the website Swaddle.com:
The same strains of human papillomavirus — the most common sexually transmitted infection globally — that can develop into cervical cancer may also be a risk factor in cardiovascular disease, new research suggests.
After adjusting for other known risk factors including body mass index, weight-to-height ratio, smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise levels, family history and more, women infected with one of these high-risk strains of HPV were 22 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than women without an HPV infection, concluded the study published in Circulation Research, a journal of the American Heart Association. When an HPV infection occurred in women with obesity and metabolic disorder, also well-known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, their likelihood of developing CVD jumped by 66 percent and 50 percent,, respectively.
This doesn’t need to happen to our health or that of our children and grandchildren. The HPV vaccine is proving itself not only very safe, but highly effective at preventing HPV infection.
Vaccinating all medically-eligible young people could prevent an extraordinary amount of suffering for both men and women. The word “cancer” is one of the most frightening ones for anyone to hear. Future generations would hear it less often if the HPV vaccine were given as commonly as the polio vaccine in the United States. HPV is an everybody disease.