HPV and Cervical CancerThe human papillomaviruses (HPV) is a type of virus that has at least 70 strains with some doctors estimating as many as 200 strains. Each of the strains can cause skin cell abnormalities that usually result in non-cancerous or benign tumors. These benign tumors are more commonly known as warts. Sometimes they’re referred to as papillomas.
HPV infections come in two main types:
- Skin infections that cause warts to appear on the legs, arms, feet, hands and sometimes the face and neck. HPV skin infections are spread through non-sexual touching like a handshake. Skin infections are easily treated, are rarely cancerous, and can clear up on their own.
- Genital infections spread through sexual touching and oral sex.
About 30 strains of HPV can cause genital HPV infections, which cause warts to appear on the genital areas, anal areas, and inside thighs of men and women. Women can also get the warts inside the vaginal cavity and on the cervix. These 30 strains of the virus sometimes cause warts to appear inside the mouth and throat in both men and women.
An individual can carry genital human papillomavirus without having any symptoms. But even though an individual might not have symptoms, he or she can still spread it to an uninfected sexual partner.
Most forms of genital HPV infections do not cause cancer. However, there are a several strains that are considered carcinogenic or cancer causing. These types of HPV infections are also called high-risk HPV.
Carcinogenic high-risk HPV infections have been recognized as a major cause of cervical cancer in women. Some studies suggest that genital HPV infections can also play a role in the following cancers:
- penile cancer
- anus cancer
- vulva cancer
- vagina cancer
- cancer of the oropharynx (The oropharynx is the term for the areas of the mouth that include the back muscular part of the roof of the mouth, the throat, the base of the throat and the tongue.)
doctors warn that a person who gets
infected with a high-risk HPV genital infection won’t
necessarily get cancer.
There are other factors to consider. Some of these
factors could be:
- poor nutrition, and a diet low on vitamin A, vitamin B, and vitamin C
- high stress levels
- other STDs like chlamydia
- lowered immune system from AIDS, asthma or lupus
- family history of cancer
How HPV Causes Cancer
Normal skin cell division and growth in humans is naturally regulated by two proteins: Rb and p53. Certain strands of genital HPV produce their own types of proteins (E6 and E7) that attach themselves to the healthy Rb and p53 proteins. Once attached, the HPV proteins block the ability of the Rb and p53 proteins to regulate skin cell division and growth.
Since the skin cells and no longer regulate and control their division and growth, they start to reproduce without any control. The wildly growing cells can cause lumps to appear. But the biggest danger occurs when the cells grow so wildly that their entire genetic structure is badly damaged and can’t be repaired by the body’s immune system.
The changes to the structure of the skin cells is usually very small at first and might only show up under close examination of skin samples (collected through a biopsy) by a microscope. As the cell distortion continues, they often destroy the surface of the infected skin. Then the distorted cells start to grow into the deeper skin tissues and muscle causing full-blown cancer.
To prevent the chances of getting HPV cancer, people should identify any papillomas (warts) as early as possible to determine if they are cancerous. Once the papillomas have been identified they can be effectively removed using topical treatments, through freezing and in more rare cases, directly by cutting the wart away. This is especially important for women who are at a higher risk of getting HPV related cancers like cervical cancer.
Ideally the most effective way to prevent HPV cancers is by vaccinating against the HPV genital strain of the virus. This would require immunization before an individual is sexually active because it can take just one sexual encounter to become infected.
Drug companies recently have completed trials on vaccines that will fight the cancer-inducing versions of the HPV genital virus. A vaccine has been on the market since late 2006.
This page was last updated:
April 22, 2006It is not the intention of Cervicalcancer.org to provide specific medical advice, but rather to provide users with information to better understand their health and their diagnosed disorders. Specific medical advice will not be provided, and Cervicalcancer.org urges you to consult with a qualified physician for diagnosis and for answers to your personal questions.