Michael Douglas HPV | Oral Sex | Oropharyngeal Cancer

I am thrilled that Michael Douglas has brought HPV into the spotlight.  The medical community has known for decades that HPV infections cause throat and mouth cancer and have been quietly collecting data and watching trends.  Finally someone with enough clout and courage has given it some attention and brought it to the mainstream.

What is HPV?  HPV [human papillomavirus] is a virus that is transmitted through sex (oral, genital and anal).  Just like a virus that causes a cold, HPV is generally fought off by a strong immune system and clears the body on its own.  In some cases, HPV hangs on and can cause cellular changes in the tissue that it infects (example: cervix in women, mouth or throat in men or women, or rectum in men or women).  The cellular changes can lead to cancer.

Who gets HPV?  To be honest, most people having unprotected sex are probably passing around at least one strain of HPV with no signs or symptoms.  The CDC backs me up here and goes even further to say, “This is true even for people who only have sex with one person in their lifetime.”  79 million Americans are infected with HPV and there are 14 million new cases each year.  But remember there are many, many strains of HPV and only a couple of them are linked to cancer.  Also, the body generally clears HPV on its own and the risk of contracting a cancer-linked strain is rare—especially if you are healthy, don’t smoke or drink, aren’t overly stressed, or are not immunocompromised (with chronic illness, on corticosteroids, or HIV+).

How do I avoid HPV?  Kids are getting vaccinated at ages 11 and 12 with a series of two shots.  Men and women can get vaccinated up to age 26**.  But what about sexually active men and women over 26?  As a nurse I will tell you to prevent contact with genital fluids during oral, genital or anal sex.  As a nurse I will also tell you to use condoms and dental dams during sexual contact at all times.  But when I’m not acting as a clinician, I understand that for many people this is unrealistic advice.

For those who chose not to use condoms or dental dams, staying healthy is the key.  Exercise, cut out processed foods and take a Complex-B vitamin to enhance the immune system.  Limit stress in your life;  do yoga, meditate, spend time in nature.  Be as physically strong and mentally healthy as possible.  Don’t get run down and sleep regularly.  Stop smoking and limit alcohol intake.

Is there a test for HPV?  HPV tests are only available for women to screen for cervical cancer.  However a woman can have an unknown HPV infection because it can be acquired and clear on its own between tests.  There is no approved test to find HPV in the mouth, throat or rectum.

To learn more about HPV, cervical cancer and Pap guidelines see my previous blog:  GIRL TALK WITH NURSE GAIL 

Below is a snippet of information on Orophryngeal (mouth/throat) cancer caused by HPV.

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CBSNews.com reported on 6/3/13:  “The 2013 “Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer” found about 13,000 new cases of oropharyngeal in both men and women linked to HPV in 2009 (the last year of available data), more than 10,500 of which were in men. More than 60 percent of oropharyngeal cancers are caused by HPV, according to the National Cancer Institute, which was an author in the report.

From 2000 to 2009, incidence rates increased for HPV-associated cancer of the oropharynx among white men and women, the report also found.

Previous research found HPV fueled a 28 percent rise in oropharyngeal cancer cases since 1988, amounting for an additional 10,000 U.S. cases each year.”

Dr. Eric Genden, professor and chair of otolaryngology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, told CBSNews.com, “There’s an epidemic of HPV-related throat cancers.”  Genden said HPV-related throat cancers are now more common in men than cervical cancer — which is caused by the same virus — in women. These cancers are also more commonly found in younger populations, adults between ages 40 and 65, a group typically younger than those affected by smoking-related throat cancers.

People who are developing throat cancer now likely had gotten HPV more than 10 or 15 years earlier, Genden pointed out.”

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