Why HPV-related cancers are on the rise and how a simple screening can save your life
Doctors at Houston Methodist Cancer Center at Sugar Land are urging men and women to take precautions against cancers caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV.
HPV refers to a group of more than 150 related viruses that can affect the human body, including the virus that causes simple warts on the hand or feet. Because they are so common, experts believe that as many as 80 percent of Americans have an HPV infection at some point in their lives.
“HPV is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact,” said Sindhu Nair, M.D., board-certified hematologist oncologist with Houston Methodist Oncology Partners at Sugar Land. “The good news is that most of the time, HPV goes away on its own without causing any lasting problems. However, sometimes – especially when the virus is spread by intimate sexual contact – it can lead to genital warts or even cancer.”
HPV-related cancers are growing rapidly in the U.S. Researchers estimate that more than 42,000 cases of HPV-associated cancers are diagnosed each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV causes:
- 91-99 percent of cervical cancers
- 91 percent of anal cancers
- 75 percent of vaginal cancers
- 72 percent of oropharyngeal cancers
- 69 percent of vulvar cancers
- 63 percent of penile cancers
Two common cancers caused by HPV are cervical cancer in women and head and neck cancers in men and women.
“Understanding the prevalence of HPV and how it impacts your cancer risk is critical,” said Nair. “Ideally, boys and girls at age 11 or 12, should receive the HPV vaccine series. However, girls ages 13-26 and boys ages 13-21 who have not been vaccinated should get vaccinated.”
The HPV vaccine has been in use for more than a decade, and over 200 million people around the world have received the vaccination series.
“HPV vaccines are approved by the FDA and there have been no serious safety concerns identified,” said Nair. “The American Cancer Society, the Center for Disease Control and the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices all recommend HPV vaccination.”
In addition, you should make certain you are regularly screened for cervical cancer and/or head and neck cancer, including oral cancer. Women should receive annual Pap tests beginning at age 21 and continuing through age 65. Men and women should be screened annually for oral, head and neck cancers.
“Many HPV-associated cancers are actually preventable, thanks to the vaccine and to safe sexual practices,” said Nair. “People with questions about HPV or the vaccine should talk with their doctor.”
UPCOMING CANCER SURVIVORSHIP EVENTS
- Free Oral, Head and Neck Screening: In partnership with the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance, join Sindhu Nair, M.D., board-certified hematologist oncologist; Alexander Wong, M.D., board-certified oncologist; and L.T. Johnson, D.D.S., board-certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon, for a free oral, head and neck cancer screening with appointments starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday, April 27 at the Houston Methodist Cancer Center at Sugar Land, 16675 Southwest Fwy., Sugar Land, TX, 77479. Limited appointments are available for this event. For full details, restrictions and to schedule an appointment for a screening, visit events.houstonmethodist.org/cancerscreening-sl or call 281.205.4514. We ask that attendees arrive 15 minutes prior to their scheduled appointment to complete the appropriate paperwork.
- Managing Financial Toxicity After a Cancer Diagnosis: Join us for a free class on managing the financial toxicity of cancer and its treatment at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 7 in Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital’s Main Pavilion Conference Rooms A & D. For more information or to register, visit events.houstonmethodist.org/financial-sl or call 281.205.4514.