Sexually transmitted diseases: HPV

Should I be concerned about HPV and throat cancer that’s all in the news?


Well, cancers of a number of areas are linked to HPV: cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, mouth and throat.  In a previous post, we discussed that HPV infections are widespread throughout the US and are transmitted sexually in 99%+ of cases.  Since this is a silent infection, most people infected with HPV do not know they have it.  Most of the time the body’s immune system will clear the high risk and low risk viruses, or they will disappear, or go into hiding, never to be seen again but in some cases the human papilloma viruses will stay and may hang around for years.

There is no way to know  who will go on to develop cancer or other health problems from the high risk human papilloma viruses.  When the high risk viruses causes changes in the cells, these cells go through a pre-cancer stage that can be detected with screening tests such as pap smears. Unfortunately, there is no specific screening test for mouth or throat cancer at this time. Biopsies of abnormal looking areas also can detect the pre-cancer stage as well.

Cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth and throat are much less common than cervical cancer.  HPV is found in saliva (spit,) semen, and genital secretions.  It can be transmitted through skin to skin contact from genital warts.

It is best that you and your partner discuss your past sexual histories, realizing that most people do not know that they carry a silent infection.  You may be reluctant to even bring up the subject because you are in a special committed relationship.  Since the Head Virus does not know that this is a special person and will not tell the other viruses to stop, wait, don’t jump on this person because he/she is a nice person, Safe Sex is realistically your only protection.

Protection against HPV infections includes using condoms (male and female) and placing a barrier between you and your partner during oral sex such as a dental dam.  Vaccination against HPV would also be protective.  It would be best to be vaccinated prior to sexual activity; thus the push to vaccinate children and young people.  The HPV vaccination may be helpful even after initial sexual activity because it is unlikely a young person has been exposed to all of the 4 most common human papilloma viruses covered by the vaccine.