Asset Publisher
javax.portlet.title.customblogportlet_WAR_customblogportlet (Health is Global Blog)

What Do We Talk About When We Talk about Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

Photo: NIH_NIAIS_Flickr - Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

To prevent the undesirable effects of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, it is important to be informed. Here are the basics you need to know.

What is human papillomavirus and how is it transmitted?

It is a group of viruses that affect the skin and mucous membranes, mainly in genital and oral areas. It is transmitted mostly through direct skin-to-skin contact during sexual intercourse. HPV infection is very common.

What causes human papillomavirus?

There are different types of HPV: some cause genital warts, while others, called oncogenic HPV, are linked to an increased risk of cervical cancer, as well as cancer of the anus, vagina, vulva, penis and head and neck.

How to prevent human papillomavirus infection?

The best way to prevent infection with most HPV is through vaccination. It is at school age that the vaccine is most effective, as it acts as a great barrier of warring antigens that will prevent the infection from becoming established in the body.

Can cervical cancer be prevented?

Yes. Persistent HPV infection causes this cancer, which may be the most frequent and deadly cancer in some countries. If detected early, it can be almost eliminated with population-level measures. There are vaccines against 9 oncogenic HPV types that, given before infection, could eliminate 90% of cervical cancer cases worldwide. These vaccines have a significant impact on girls and boys under 15 years of age.

To prevent the undesirable effects of HPV infections, it is important to get informed, vaccinated and, for women, screened for cervical cancer. Consult a specialist if you have any doubts

What if I am an adult woman?

Millions of adult women cannot benefit from these vaccines. It is therefore crucial that they are screened from the age of 25-30, as recommended by the World Health Organisation. These tests are performed using vaginal or cervical samples. A negative test provides peace of mind for at least 5 years. This is because disease related to HPV infection takes many years to develop. In other words, if there is no infection, in most cases there is no cancer. These tests are now being progressively carried out throughout Spain and are much better than the traditional Pap test. In Spain we have a low incidence of cervical cancer thanks to the high participation of the population in these tests.

What happens in low-income countries?

In resource-poor countries, access to these tests is very limited or even non-existent. The result is that in places like Mozambique cervical cancer is very common, while in Spain cervical cancer ranks 20th in frequency. One fact: the risk of cervical cancer is 8.5 times higher in Mozambique than in Spain.

Should men be vaccinated?

Yes, HPV vaccination is also recommended for boys. Although the vaccine was introduced to prevent cervical cancer in females, it protects against other types of cancer and genital warts in both sexes. Vaccination in men helps prevent transmission of HPV and reduces the risk of complications, such as cancer of the penis, anus and certain types of throat cancer. An increasing number of countries are vaccinating school-age girls and boys, starting at age 9 and preferably before age 15. The vaccines are safe and have not been found to induce increased sexual promiscuity in vaccinated cohorts.

Should I be concerned if I have an HPV infection?

As we have said, HPV is common and, in most cases, the immune system will clear it naturally. Vaccination and screening are the key elements for maximum prevention. Today we have no proven treatment for the infection. Once established, we can only monitor its evolution and, if required, treat the lesion. If in doubt about any gynaecological abnormality, it is important to consult a specialist.


More information:

Spanish Association of Cervical Pathology