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5 things you need to know about Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a really common virus that infects both women and men. Although most HPV infections go away on their own over time, some infections can’t be cleared by our immune systems meaning they can hang around long enough to damage the DNA in infected cells. This can lead to changes in the cells and even lead to cancer. Screening for HPV along with the HPV vaccine, provides us with powerful tools to prevent cervical cancer from ever developing. However, there is currently no diagnostic test that can tell me or women about HPV infections in other parts of the body. At 10zyme, we hope to change that.

Another very important fact is that HPV doesn’t just cause cervical cancer, it causes other cancers in both MEN and WOMEN, which is why HPV vaccination is given and strongly recommended for both BOYS and GIRLS.

1. HPV causes other cancers as well as cervical cancer in both men and women

While cervical cancer is the most well-known HPV cancer, however it’s not the only type of cancer HPV infections can cause. In fact in some countries around the world oropharyngeal cancers have become more common. HPV infections can also cause cancers of the:
● back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (oropharynx), and anus in men and women.
● vagina, and vulva in women
● penis in men

2. HPV does not require penetrative sex to be transmitted

HPV is passed on by skin-to-skin contact so technically it is a sexually transmitted infection. However you do NOT need to have penetrative sex to catch HPV. Simply touching genital areas with fingers could be enough to transmit the virus. It is also important to note that HPV doesn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation. Men and women are both able to catch and pass on infections.

3. HPV infections do not have any symptoms.

Despite the link between HPV infections and numerous cancers, HPV infections themselves often go unnoticed because they don’t have any symptoms.

It is only HPV 6 and 11 (both low-risk types) that result in genital warts and therefore a visible symptom. Infections with all other types rarely produce any symptoms. This is why at 10zyme we think testing and knowing your HPV status can be very empowering! Allowing you to take control of your own health.

4. HPV vaccination is recommended at ages 11 or 12. 

The reason we vaccinate at this age is because it is VITAL that HPV vaccination is given BEFORE the person has had the chance to come into contact with the virus. This means to be as effective as possible, vaccinating at 11 or 12 years of age is necessary. HPV vaccination provides the best protection when given at the recommended ages of 11-12. It is important to have ALL doses at the required time. Remembering that HPV doesn’t just cause cervical cancer in women. It also causes other HPV related cancers, including HPV related cancers in men. This is why it is very important that both BOYS and GIRLS are vaccinated against HPV.

5. HPV vaccination doesn’t mean you don’t need to attend your smear. AND screening doesn’t replace vaccination.

Every year, around 3,200 women living in the UK. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than ¼ or 25% of those women will die from the disease — even with screening and treatment. Many think it isn’t necessary to attend cervical screening if they have been vaccinated but this isn’t the case. There are over 15 high-risk types of HPV that can cause cancer. The vaccine up until recently only protected against the 2 most high-risk types. The most recent vaccine covers 9 types out of 200 in total (both low- and high-risk). This means even if you are vaccinated, you aren’t fully protected against ALL the types of HPV. Cervical screening tests for multiple types of HPV, so infections won't go undetected. There is no routine screening test for the other cancers caused by HPV. Many of those HPV cancers are not discovered until they are late stage or invasive and can be very painful, disfiguring, and even deadly. It is essential that women and people with a cervix take full advantage of the ability to be screened for free in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland who currently don’t perform primary HPV screening). Women who have had the HPV vaccine should still start getting screened for cervical cancer when they reach age 24/25.

Make sure you check our Preventionist Manual series with Cervical Cancer, All About HPV and coming soon, parent's guide for kids in the Start em' Young edition. And follow us on our social channels, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

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