Overview of Human Papilloma Virus: What You Should Know

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus with subtypes that cause diseases in humans ranging from common warts (growth) to cervical cancer, cancer of the vulva, penis and anus.

One key point to note is that this virus is usually transmitted sexually.

It is well known that HPV is a major cause of cervical cancer. However, it is also a major cause of throat/oral cancer, which, according to research, is increasing at a more deadly rate than the well known cervical cancer.

This throat cancer also known as oropharyngeal cancer occurs in the parts of the throat people can't see or touch and they include the back third of the tongue, the soft palate, the side and back walls of the throat, and the tonsils. Excessive intake of alcohol and tobacco used to be the common risk factors for this cancer, but right now, 70% to 90% can be traced to HPV.

Just as HPV-related cervical cancer rate has reducessd drastically due to effective screening, so will HPV- oropharyngeal cancer rate reduces if effective vaccine measures are taken into consideration at an early age before one becomes sexually active.

Routine vaccination is highly recommended for 11 and 12 years old. Notwithstanding, people between the ages of 26years to 45years could still get vaccinated, but then, vaccination at adulthood does not prevent cancer caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), and this is because 80% of the HPV infections are acquired before age 26 and this simply entails that the disease is diagnosed 20-30 years after one has been infected by the virus. That is, people contract the virus in their twenties and thirties and then present with cancer around their fifties. Unfortunate, indeed!

In contrast, when it comes to cervical cancer, consistent screening can go a long way to reduce the number of deaths caused by the disease; whereas for throat cancer, it is not the same. Pap tests could aid in detecting cervical cancer early, but for oropharyngeal cancer, there are no screening measures to detect them early. However, one of its most common symptoms is a swollen lymph node that stays that way and doesn’t resolve within a few weeks — and also a persistent throat pain. One should see a doctor once these symptoms are noticed.

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One soothing fact is that oropharyngeal cancers are highly curable, and its treatment, in this case, can involve chemo, radiation, surgery, etc.  Thus, it is highly advised to see a doctor once one observes the above-stated symptoms, but more importantly, vaccination at an adolescent age would help prevent 25000 HPV - related cancers per year. Prevention will always be better than cure.