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Bridging HPV and Cancer: Why It Matters

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In a roundtable discussions yesterday, September 20, 2017 entitled, “Bridging HPV and Cancer: Why It Matters”, held at Shangri-La at The Fort, medical practitioners specializing in HPV studies underscored the burden of HPV and how it can prohibit people, especially women, for having a healthy future. HPV infection causes cervical cancer which is prolific killer and the fourth most common cancer among women across the globe.

The burden of HPV infection has long been a worldwide healthcare and still not many people know the link between HPV and cancer. Since 2006, the HPV vaccination was already available but it is estimated that less than 5 percent of eligible Filipina women have availed it.

Dr. F Xavier Bosch, Senior Consultant to the Cancer Epidemiology Research Program (CERP) at Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO) Information Center in Spain and Dr. Sybil Bravo, Obstetrician-Gynecologist Infectious Disease Specialist and Clinical Associate Professor at the University of the Philippines – College of Medicine and Philippine General Hospital shared insights on the incidence of HPV infections, the relevance and success stories surrounding to the prevention of HPV infections.

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection with most sexually active men and women being exposed to the virus at some point during their lifetime. Any kind of genital contact even if it’s just the skin of the genital of an infected person, can result to transmission. HPV can be spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Sometimes, HPV can be transmitted during birth to an infant causing genital or respiratory system infections. There are more than 100 types of HPV strains, of which approximately 30-40 types affect the genital area.

HPV causes virtually 100 percent of cervical cancer cases as indicated by the “Human Papillomavirus and Related Diseases Report” recently published by the ICO Information Centre, which is based in Barcelona, Spain. It is also known to cause other genital cancers in both males and females.

Symptoms of human papillomavirus

Women – the area most commonly affected by warts is the vulva. However, they can also be present near the anus, on the cervix, or within the vagina.

Men – warts in men may appear on the penis, scrotum, or around the anus.

In both men and women, genital warts may also be found in the groin.

Other warts associated with HPV include common warts, plantar, and flat warts.

Common warts – rough, raised bumps most commonly found on the hands, fingers, and elbows.

Plantar warts – described as hard, grainy growths on the feet; they most commonly appear on the heels or balls of the feet.

Flat warts – generally affect children, adolescents, and young adults; they appear as flat-topped, slightly raised lesions that are darker than normal skin color and are most commonly found on the face, neck, or areas that have been scratched.

Types of HPV

High-risk HPV strains include HPV 16 and 18, which cause about 70% of cervical cancers. Other high-risk HPV viruses include 3133455258, and a few others. Low-risk HPV strains, such as HPV 6 and 11, cause about 90% of genital warts, which rarely develop into cancer.

In the Philippines, cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among Filipino women, next to breast cancer. Although cervical cancer screening tests are readily available for early treatment or prevention, more than 6,000 Filipinas are still diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. Within five years from diagnosis, more than half of those women will die.

The Department of Health (DOH), with support from multi-stakeholder groups, recently included quadrivalent human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in its school-based national immunization program to protect young girls against disease cause by HPV infections.

The equivalent HPV vaccine used by the DOH in its immunization program is available in more than 130 counties globally, with many countries utilizing this as part of their national immunizations program. It covers HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18.

The immunization initiative was previously implemented through the community-based approach. Armed with  expert recommendations on the ideal model for service delivery given the target beneficiaries, the recent shift was bought by the DOH’s goal to vaccinate 720,000 young girls this year. From 20 provinces, the scope of the expanded program now spans 56 provinces and cities around the country.

Dr. Bosch highlighted the need to focus on HPV strains that local epidemiology is able to show in order to address these appropriately with vaccinations – the primary means of prevention is readily available.

Both Bosch and Bravo emphasized the need for continued multi-sector collaboration to help achieve an HPV-free future, and further spread awareness on the threat poses by HPV and the significance of cervical cancer screening and immunization. This included government agencies, non-government organizations, the academe, medical community, private sector, members of the media and particularly mothers who ave the primary role of helping their daughters lead a brighter future away from the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases such as cervical cancer. To learn more about HPV, visit www.helpfighthpv.com.

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