For her 12 August, 2016 Isabel Vallejo
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is currently considered one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world.
HPV generates infections than can be transmitted through sexual intercourse -including anal or oral sex-, and sometimes pregnancy or childbirth from an infected mother, or via blood transfusion.
This disease has no cure, which is why the key is to prevent it through the permanent use of condoms, or by getting one of many licensed vaccines that are currently available before you begin your sex life. Hence, in many countries administration of the HPV vaccine is recommended between 10 and 14 years of age.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most HPV infections are transient and benign. However, certain genotypes of the virus that cause persistent genital infections should be a source of concern, as these can lead to cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile or anal cancer in the long term, as well as a subset of head and neck cancers, genital warts and recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.
Learn more about HPV, how to prevent it and treat it:
- The transmission rate is very high
Most sexually active men and women will contract an HPV infection at some point in their lives. To this day, according to a study cited by the WHO, more than 290 million women have been infected. The most effective way to prevent infection is the frequent use of condoms.
- More than 100 HPV genotypes are known
At least 13 of these genotypes can cause cervical cancer or have been associated with other cancers. Types 16 and 18 are high risk types: they account for about 70% of invasive cervical cancer cases in the world, with type 16 being the most oncogenic. Low-risk types 6 and 11 are the cause of about 90% genital warts and most cases of recurrent respiratory papillomatosis. All other types rarely cause cancer.
- Traces of HPV in the epithelium of the cervix can be detected through a pap smear
Infected cells can be identified under the microscope, but this diagnostic test reveals any changes that may have occurred, whether for benign or low-grade cervix lesions produced by most genotypes, such as those caused by the most oncogenic HPV types.
- The time between the initial HPV infection and the onset of cervical cancer is 20 years on average
Therein lies the importance of diagnostic tests, regardless of the type of lesion resulting from a more in-depth test, such as a colposcopy. According to the WHO, HPV is currently the cause of 528,000 cases of cervical cancer and 266,000 deaths per year. Most cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in women over 40 years of age.
- HPV infections are incurable
Once someone contracts the virus, they will carry it for the rest of their lives, although it may never evolve into an infection. If it does, treatments are available that can reduce or mitigate the symptoms or disease. The key is always prevention: condoms and vaccines. However, no treatment can cure the disease once it develops. The anti-HPV quadrivalent vaccine contains virus-like particles of genotypes 6, 11, 16 and 18. It can be applied to prevent precancerous lesions, cervical cancer and anogenital warts in women.