ALERT

The Battle Against HPV

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The virus that causes oral cancer shares characteristics with cervical cancer.

By Kevin RR Williams

Body Invaders

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Imagine battling over 120 soldiers. Four are special ops. Their intent is to literally get under your skin—a goal already achieved in more than three quarters of their targets. The promi­nent human papilloma­virus soldiers go by the names HPV-16, HPV-18, HPV-31, and HPV-45. They invade the skin with nearly invisible and often flat cancer-causing growths.

The Attack

The most dangerous attackers, HPV-16 and HPV-18, thrive in the genital tract and oral mucosa such as the back of the tongue, the oropharynx, tonsils and the tonsillar pillars; they are respon­sible for 70 percent of cervical cancers.

HPV-6 and HPV-11 frequently appear as raised non-cancerous warts on the arms, legs and other skin areas. The most common types are HPV-1, 2 and 4, which cause warts on the hands (palmar warts) and feet (plantar warts).

Bowen’s disease is generally indicated by HPV-31, 54, 58, 61, 62, and 73. HPV-6 and 11 may suggest benign recurrent tumors of laryngeal and respiratory papillomatosis and cauliflower-like genital warts, called condylomata.

HPV stands for human papilloma­virus. Common causes of this vast series of viruses are smoking, chewing tobacco, immoderate alcohol consumption, and promiscuous sex. In fact, over 30 types of HPV can be passed from one person to another through sexual contact.

Strains of HPV can also be transferred from seemingly “safe” contact like open-mouth kissing or even skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual—touching an exposed wart. Nearly everyone has some type of HPV at some point in their life, and chances increase with age.

Some types of HPV are innocuous; others are automatically eliminated by a healthy immune system. Most HPV infections in young females are temporary and have little long-term signi­fi­cance. Seventy percent of infections are gone in 1 year and 90 percent in 2 years.

Over 30 types of HPV can be passed… through sexual contact.

But when infection persists—in 5 to 10 percent of infected women—there is high risk of developing cervical precancer (lesions on the cervix), which can progress to invasive cervical cancer. This process usually takes 15–20 years, providing many oppor­tuni­ties for detection and treatment of the pre-cancerous condition, often with high cure rates.

HPV From Fellatio & Cunnilingus Risks

When aroused, the vaginal cavity is lubricated by a combination of plasma and mucus—neither of which are considered edible bodily fluids.

For those considering oral sex as form of con­tracep­tion, there is a remote possibility that accidental vaginal exposure to semen without copulation may result in pregnancy. While upwards of a half million spermatozoa are released per ejaculation, it only takes one to fertilize a female egg.

For most people, a more serious deterrent is the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Long gone is the simple solution of taking penicillin to get rid of a venereal disease. Syphilis is seeing a resurgence in Europe, Germany, France, Netherlands, Amsterdam, and the U.S.

There are now many STIs resistant to penicillin. Chlamydia, human papilloma­virus (HPV), gonorrhea, herpes, hepatitis (multiple strains), and other sexually transmitted infections—can be transmitted through oral sex.

Physical cleanliness is important. But despite good hygiene, there are plenty of potential gynecological disorders that could be lurking down there. Some result from multiple (infected) sex partners, while infections can occur in someone that is not sexually active. In addition to normal acidic microflora, the vagina can be a breeding ground for everything from abnormal bleeding and yeast infection to HPV and AIDS.

Hematospermia is the presence of blood in semen. It is most often a benign and idiopathic symptom, but can sometimes result from medical problems such as a urethral stricture, infection of the prostate, or a congenital bleeding disorder. Bloody semen can unknowingly be ejaculated during fellation. STIs can be transferred via an open canker sore or infected semen.

Something more insidious may cause one to pause when contemplating oral sex.

Men and women can suffer bouts with intertrigo (or jock itch) in the groin, anus and beneath the breasts. Intertrigo is a rash in the creases of overlapping skin associated with sweating, skin-on-skin friction, and occlusive clothing. Intimate contact with objects that harbor fungus spores (e.g. unwashed towels, bedding or hair combs, moldy tile grout) can cause intertrigo since the fungus can thrive on dead skin cells for a long time.

People taking broad-spectrum antibiotics or those with diabetes are at risk to develop the rash. Thoroughly pat dry after showering or bathing and apply talcum powder (or antifungal powder if rash is present) to folds of skin to control jock itch. Even with these precautions, something more insidious may cause one to pause when contem­plating oral sex—throat cancer.

Prevent the Attack

The best defense against dangerous types of HPV is prevention. Two FDA-approved HPV vaccines show greater efficacy prior to infection for females between 9 and 26 years old (Gardasil and Cervarix). About 30 percent of cervical cancers will not be prevented by these vaccines.

Avoid risky sex and non-monogamous practices. Sexually active women should have regular Papanicolaou (Pap) smears to detect early signs of cervical cancer. The CDC recom­menda­tion is that all children aged 11 or 12 years old should get two shots of HPV vaccine six to twelve months apart.

One person per hour dies from oral cancer. Have six-month dental examinations performed by a professional that screens for oral cancer. Many dentists are using florescence devices such as the VELscope to discover basal cell carcinoma a year or more before it becomes visible to the naked eye. Upon discovery they are likely to refer patients to an otolaryngologist (ENT doctor).

Annual examinations for lumps and moles are recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. New moles appearing after age 20 should be examined by a dermatologist. Death rates from cervical cancer have halved over the past 30 years, reflecting better treat­ment. Though outnumbered, you can success­fully battle HPV and reduce incidence of cervical and oral cancer with defensive action.

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