Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and CANCER

Why is it essential to know about Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)?

Education and awareness about HPV infection can help in reducing the burden of HPV cancer.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). HPV is a group of viruses capable of causing infections. HPV can cause warts (papillomas) in the infected area, cancer (especially cervical cancer) or other health problems. HPV can infect the genital areas of males and females.

How do people get HPV?

HPV is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, it happens by having vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has the virus. Nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point of time.

HPV and Cancer

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the most common cause of cervical cancer, which is the second most common cancer among women. There were an estimated 445,000 new cases and 27,000 deaths due to cervical cancer in 2012 globally (WHO 2015).

Other cancers caused by HPV are cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus and cancers of the throat and tongue.

Signs and Symptoms

Generally there are no specific symptoms noticed due to the infection. The signs show up only in advanced stage. The symptoms include:

  1. Genital Warts – Small bumps or group of bumps in the genital area. They can be of various shapes, flat, raised or round.
  2. Cancer- Symptoms usually appear in advanced stages. Specifically for cervical cancer, there might be unusual bleeding from vagina, abnormal discharge, etc. In cases of other cancers caused by HPV, the symptoms can vary.

Detecting HPV

There is no specific test to detect the HPV status of an individual. Generally HPV infections may go unattended. Only in cases of cervical cancer, it can be detected with routine cervical cancer screening (Pap smear test). There is no treatment for the virus itself, but there are treatments for the problems (warts, cervical discharge) that HPV can cause. Therefore, it is better to take up preventive measures to protect yourself from HPV.

Preventing HPV

Practise Safer Sex: The easiest way of reducing the chances of getting infected by HPV is by practising safer sex.

HPV Vaccination: Get vaccinated, this could prevent most cancers and other diseases caused by HPV. There are two recommended vaccines available against HPV infection and are efficacious in preventing cervical cancer. As per the guidelines, the age for vaccination is 11–12 years for girls and boys, and for adults until 26 years of age.

Regular Health Checks: It is important for women to get regular screening for cervical cancer.

Routine Pap Test can help in detecting cancers even before they develop and this can save many lives.

PIH INITIATIVE

In PNG, cervical cancer is a serious health concern among women. There is an increase in number of cervical cancer cases being reported every year (HPV Centre 2015). PIH has partnered with FM Central in promoting awareness about cervical cancer and giving out free PAP Smear Test.  PIH emphasises the need for HPV vaccination for every girl in getting protection against the virus. PIH encourages the community to take part in building awareness about HPV in keeping the numbers down for HPV cancers in PNG.

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