Saturday, January 29, 2011

Genital warts, Cancer and HPV

Regardless of what you may have heard about chlamydia it's actually HPV, Human Papillomavirus Virus, that is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US. One of the reasons for this is that in many cases the infected person has no signs or symptoms. Because of this the CDC estimate that by the age of 50 more than 80% of American women will have contracted at least one strain of genital HPV.

Whoa. Screechy noise. Backup.  By the age of 50 more than 80% of American women will have contracted at least one strain of genital HPV.

Although only a small percentage of these women will develop cervical cancer the fact that such large numbers of women are infected each year means that up to 1 million American women are diagnosed with cervical dysplasia each year. Cervical dysplasia, caused by HPV, is a precursor to cervical cancer and is painful and costly to treat. Of these 1 million cases each year about 11,000 subsequently develop cervical cancer and about 4,000 of these women will die. Every year.

So a safe and effective vaccine is going to be a great discovery right?

Widespread vaccination has the potential to reduce cervical cancer deaths around the world by as much as two-thirds, if all women were to take the vaccine and if protection turns out to be long-term. In addition, the vaccines can reduce the need for medical care, biopsies, and invasive procedures associated with the follow-up from abnormal Pap tests, thus helping to reduce health care costs and anxieties related to abnormal Pap tests and follow-up procedures.
—American National Cancer Institute

Because so many women are infected it is clear that women need to be vaccinated before they can become infected. The best way to do this is to vaccinate them before they become sexually active .

Oh oh. We used the sex word.
Wait, am I missing something here? We leave it up to private companies to develop vaccines and then we find it somehow sinister if they push for mandatory vaccinations when they develop an effective vaccine against a disease that kills thousands. Oh and did I mention that it is estimated (by the CDC) that at any one time 1% of sexually active adults have genital warts (also caused by HPV).

Don't make me post the genital wart pictures....

1 comment:

Erin Mordecai said...

On that note, if anyone picked up the book given out for free by UCSB Reads, called the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, it is essentially a story of HPV-induced cervical cancer. Henrietta's tumors were so malignant and aggressive that at her death, that her internal organs looked like they were covered in pearls. Ouch! And I don't even want to tell you what radiation treatments were like in the '50s.

But precisely the property that made the HPV-tumor cells so deadly was what made them so useful to science. When cultured in the lab, they never died. Sixty years later, her tumor cells, dubbed HeLa, are still one of the main cell lines used in research because they divide ad infinum and the culture never dies. In fact, they can move aerially and contaminate other cell cultures.

The book, by Rebecca Skloot, chronicles what Henrietta's family went through for decades after her death, when their mother's cells were used without their knowledge or consent and launched a multimillion dollar industry (all the while Henrietta's descendants can't afford health insurance.)