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HPV and cancer, his and hers

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The Human PapillomaVirus (HPV) has become the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), affecting both males and females.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some HPV facts include:

  • There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause health problems including genital warts and cancers;
  • It is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex;
  • HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms;
  • Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person. You also can develop symptoms years after you have sex with someone who is infected. This makes it hard to know when you first became infected;
  • In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems;
  • To lower the chance of getting HPV, get vaccinated, get screened, and ALWAYS exercise safe sex (condoms);
  • About the HPV vaccine: it used to be recommended for individuals through age 26 but recent recommendations by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) raised that limit to ages 27-45 as cancer prevention.

What kind of cancer can HPV cause? In women, it may develop into cervical cancer, while in men it will develop in oropharangeal (mouth/tongue, back of throat) cancer. HPV may also develop into anal and other genital cancers.

Women have been quite knowledgeable about HPV-related cervical cancer, and most are familiar with the need for a colposcopy when such abnormal cells are suspected via a positive Pap smear. WebMD has a fine explanation.

Less known is the impact of HPV on males, despite rapidly rising prevalence of HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer in the United States and other Western countries, up to 70% of oral cancers! This type of male oral cancer is often associated with a greater number of sex partners, and a history of oral sex. With this new understanding, medical diagnostics and intervention have been developing to include males in HPV management and to provide timely intervention – this cancer has an 85-90% survival rate.

If the male in your life has symptoms that include hoarseness, pain or difficulty swallowing, pain while chewing, a lump in the neck, a feeling of a persistent lump in the throat, change in voice, or non-healing sores on the neck, urge them to speak with their doctor right away. Of course, such symptoms can be caused by other health issues but timely vigilance is essential.

You may surely say that HPV is none discriminatory – it can touch anyone. Consider getting vaccinated, be attentive, practice safe ses, and share the knowledge with others.

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