HPV. One of the most common STIs
New month, new topic! We are dedicating February to a very important topic, which sometimes does not get enough attention even though it is so common. Wondering what we are talking about? Well, no other than one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, HPV.
What is HPV and what diseases can it cause? Let’s dive in!
HPV stands for Human papillomavirus and it is one of the most common dermatologic and sexually transmitted infections. Almost every sexually active person will get infected with HPV at one point during life.
Currently, over 200 types of HPV have been discovered. Only a few are considered high risk and potentially cancerous. HPV can be classified based on its risk of developing various conditions such as genital warts or cancer:
High risk: 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, 68, 73, 82
Probable high risk: 26, 53, 66
Low-risk: 6, 11, 40, 42, 43, 44, 54, 61, 70, 72, 81
How common is HPV?
Globally , HPV has a prevalence of 12% in women and men, with a preponderance in Africa and Oceania
Worldwide, the highest prevalence of HPV infections can be seen in young adults (24% of cases are found in women less than 25 years old) and declines with older age
It is more common in men than in women, but the infection lasts longer in women
It is one of the major cause of infection-related cancer, both in women and men
It is linked to be the cause for 96% of cervical cancers, 93% of anal cancers, 64% of vaginal cancers, 51% of vulvar cancers, 36% of penile cancers and 63% of oral cancers. Therefore it has a high mortality rate, especially in developing countries.
The majority of the HPV infections (70-90%) do not present symptoms and can disappear in up to 2 years (thanks to the immune system), but some types of HPV that are high risk can lead to precancerous wounds and cancer
Amongst the high risk types, 16 and 18 types of HPV have the highest oncogenic (cancerous) risk. HPV16 is the most frequent high risk type (3.2% of women) followed by HPV18 (1.4%)
Transmission and factors that increase the risk of being infected with HPV
HPV is transmitted through sexual activities and contact with infected areas. Condoms may reduce the risks of getting or transmitting HPV but can’t protect 100%. HPV can be transmitted through contact of skin as well.
Multiple types of HPV can be transmitted at the same time
Number of sex partners: several studies show a connection between an increased number of sexual partners and the high risk of infection with HPV (both for the affected person and their partner)
What happens if you get infected with HPV?
Most types of HPV are inoffensive and can disappear after a few months without showing any symptoms, but some types can develop into genital warts or various types of cancer.
They are common symptoms of an HPV infection
HPV6 and HPV11 are responsible for 90% of cases
Higher prevalence in people younger than 30 years
Higher prevalence in developed countries such as Canada, UK, The Netherlands and the Nordic countries
It is the fourth most frequent cancer among women and the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths globally
Annually, 84% of diagnosed cases come from developing countries, where it ranks as the second most common type of cancer in women, right after breast cancer.
In developed countries, cervical cancer is responsible for only 1% of the total cases of cancer that develop in women
HPV16 is responsible for approx. 60% of cervical cancers
It usually develops after a persistent infection of the cervix with one or multiple types of HPV
The risk of developing cervical cancer due to HPV is higher than the risk of developing lung cancer due to smoking or developing liver cancer because of Hepatitis B
Factors that may contribute to developing cervical cancer: smoking, oral contraceptive pill use for a long period, higher numbers of pregnancies, co-infection with HPV, infection with herpes simplex virus or chlamydia trachomatis, absence of male circumcision in males, weak immune system, nutrition
Anogenital cancer (region of anus and genitals)
Annually, 30 000 cases are diagnosed in men (cancer of the anus and penis) and 38 000 are diagnosed in women (cancer of the vulva and vagina)
Head and neck cancer
Studies suggest that an oral infection with HPV, persisting for decades, can be responsible for the development of head and throat cancer
Globally, approx. 37000 annual cases of head or neck cancer are attributable to an HPV oral infection
It represents 50% of all HPV related cancers in men
It is rare, but observed more frequent in men
Factors: high number of sexual partners, cigarette use and older age
Unfortunately, HPV remains one of the most common sexually transmitted infections that can easily develop into deadly diseases. An important influence on lowering the prevalence of HPV is increasing and spreading awareness about this STI, starting with us!
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