The human papillomavirus (HPV) is known for its connection to cervical cancer. The exact mechanism isn't entirely clear, but if a woman contracts HPV through sexual contact, her immune system will fight off the virus. In most women who have HPV, there might not even be any symptoms.
However, in a small number of women, the virus stays in the body for years. Eventually, the virus cells near the cervix change into more dangerous cancer cells. If a woman has regular pap smears, these cell changes can be detected. If they are not, and cervical cancer develops, it becomes a far more difficult health issue. Estimates are that HPV is responsible for 31,500 new cases of cancer every year.
HPV does not only affect women, though. Men can get it as well. Recent research shows that oral HPV infections are now more common in men than in women. The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, found that there were approximately 11.5 million men with HPV, compared to 3.2 million women. The strain of HPV is relevant as well. HPV-16 is known to have caused most of the HPV related cancers. That strain is also more prevalent in men, with about 1.8% of men aged 18-69 having it. HPV-16 is present in less than 1% of women of the same age. The most common cancer that results from an oral HPV infection is oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC). It's also more common in men than in women.
There are vaccines that can prevent HPV infection and thus lower the rate of HPV related cancers. However, the immunization must be given before the age of 26, and many men are past that age. With the numbers on the rise for this infection, research into the whys and hows of the spread of HPV are essential. Since there are so many men and women that are not vaccinated against the infection, alternative ways to reduce the spread of HPV need to be found. It's especially challenging to understand all of the transmission factors since the virus can cause cancer in several different anatomical areas. Condoms are one way of preventing genital HPV, but head and neck infections are on the rise as well, so understanding transmission mechanics is crucial.
The recent statistics on the rise of oral HPV infections in men were compiled by a team of scientists at the University of Florida's Department of Health Services Research, Management and Policy. They used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to break down the trends in various types of HPV in men and women as well as how the number of cases progressed in different age groups. The study's senior author, Ashish Deshmukh, Ph.D., MPH, an assistant professor of public health at the University, told Forbes Magazine, "Most surprisingly, we found that oral HPV infection prevalence among men with concurrent genital HPV increases with age, while this trend reverses among women. It's not clear why men with genital HPV infections would be more likely to develop oral HPV as they get older when women's risk drops with age."
More research is needed into all of the factors in HPV infection, transmission, and related cancers. The video below explains the new findings, take a look.