THE FOLLOWING IS AN INTERVIEW WITH DOCTOR NANCY VAN VESSEM, M.D., THE CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER AT CAPITAL HEALTH PLAN.
ANGELA: What is HPV and why is there a vaccine ?
DR. VAN VESSEM: HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus which is a sexually transmitted infection. In most people, the body’s immune system will clear it away in two years. Some will have genital warts but others may not know they have it. Unfortunately, in 5-10% of people, the body is unsuccessful in eliminating the virus. It can then be associated with several types of cancer usually after 10-20 years. These include cancers of the reproductive organs, anus and head/ neck cancers. A recent study showed that 75% of head and neck cancers had HPV genetic material in them. About 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. The vaccine is in use for girls as preventive measure to reduce cervical cancer. Virtually all cervical cancer is due to HPV.
ANGELA: Why vaccinate boys and girls?
DR. VAN VESSEM: Younger people, prior to infection by the virus, gain more protection from the vaccine. Both men and women are at risk for head and neck cancers as well as rectal cancers. These cancers are on the increase. Another consideration is to reduce passing HPV between men and women over time.
ANGELA: What would be another strategy to reduce the health risks associated with HPV?
DR. VAN VESSEM: Another strategy would be to only have a sexual relationship with someone who does not have HPV. The problem is that not everyone knows if and when they have it. In addition, for head and neck cancers, tobacco use and alcohol increase the risk. Routine PAP testing for women is also recommended for early detection of precancerous cells. If these are found, treatment options are very effective for eliminating the cancer risk.
ANGELA: What is the most interesting aspect of this news for you?
DR. VAN VESSEM: The knowledge that certain infections cause cancer is very helpful because it allows more targeted approaches to reduce the burden of illness brought on by cancer.
For more information on HPV and the vaccine for it, scroll down to the Related Links section of this story and click on the link to the CDC.