HPV and Cancer – An Introduction

Last Updated: March 22, 2019

Medical oncologist Dr. Ezra Cohen defines human papillomavirus (HPV), outlines its link to different types of cancer, and discusses the HPV vaccine and how it prevents HPV-related cancers.

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HPV and Cancer

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Podcast: What You Need To Know About HPV and Cancer

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Cancer.Net: Doctor-Approved Patient Information from ASCO®

HPV and Cancer – An Introduction

What is HPV?

Voice over: The human papillomavirus, known as HPV, is common in the United States. There are many different types of HPV, and although most people have no symptoms or health problems indicating that they have the virus, some strains can lead to cancer or pre-cancerous conditions.

Ezra Cohen, MD; Medical Oncologist; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO):  There are hundreds of different subtypes of the virus, but there appear to be a few that can cause cancer. And not everybody, of course, is infected with those strains, but the danger about HPV is that if an individual is infected with a strain that can cause cancer, they may be susceptible to developing certain types of cancer.

Oropharynx cancer in the throat, cervical cancer, anal cancer and penile cancer are the major cancers that can be caused by HPV.

It does two things that are really important and can eventually cause cancer. It disrupts the cellular machinery and all of a sudden that cell becomes susceptible to developing further mutations and eventually turn into a cancer cell. And it prevents the immune system from eliminating that early cancer cell.  

How to Prevent HPV-related Cancers

Voice over: Now in the United States and many other countries around the world, there are vaccines that can prevent HPV and HPV related cancers.

Dr. Cohen: When the human papillomavirus infects a person and gets into the cell, it begins to change the cell in ways that may actually lead to cancer years or even decades down the road. So the key is to actually prevent that infection in the first place.

We recommend the vaccine for preteens or people before they become sexually active because that’s where it’s most effective. The recommendation in the United States is for both boys and girls to be vaccinated. For women, it prevents cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, and both anal and oropharynx cancer.

And for men, the addition of prevention of penile cancer, as well as anal and especially for oropharynx cancer in the throat where we know that men are much more susceptible to women to develop that type of head and neck cancer.

Where Can I Find More Information?

Dr. Cohen: Beyond talking to their physician, the internet becomes a wonderful resource for information related to HPV and HPV related cancers. I think one of the better websites is Cancer.Net. There are specific pages addressing HPV. And it offers links to other sources of information about vaccines, cancers that might be related to HPV, risk factors. For patients who are worried about HPV or want to find out more, Cancer.Net is a wonderful resource.

Voice over: For more information about HPV, and HPV related cancers, please visit Cancer.Net/HPV.

[Closing and Credits]

Cancer.Net: Doctor-Approved Patient Information from ASCO®

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