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HPV Information

  • Papillomaviruses [ Human papillomavirus ] are a diverse group of DNA-based viruses that infect the skin and mucous membranes of humans. More than 100 different human papillomavirus (HPV) types have been characterized. Some HPV types cause benign skin warts, or papillomas, for which the virus family is named. HPVs associated with the development of such "common warts" are transmitted environmentally or by casual skin-to-skin contact...
  • A group of about 30-40 HPVs are typically transmitted through sexual contact and infect the anogenital region. Some sexually transmitted HPVs, such as types 6 and 11, can cause genital warts. However, most HPV types that infect the genitals tend not to cause noticeable symptoms.

    Persistent infection with a subset of about 12 so-called "high-risk" sexually transmitted HPVs, including types 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, and 68 ? different from the ones that cause warts ? can lead to the development of cervical dyskaryosis, which may in turn lead to cancer of the cervix. HPV infection is a necessary factor in the development of nearly all cases of cervical cancer.

    Cervical Pap smear testing is used to detect any HPV-induced cellular abnormalities. This allows targeted surgical removal of pre-cancerous lesions prior to the development of invasive cervical cancer. In the absence of Pap testing or treatment, about 1% of women with genital HPV infections will eventually go on to develop cervical cancer. Although the widespread use of Pap testing has reduced the incidence and lethality of cervical cancer in developed countries, the disease still kills several hundred thousand women per year worldwide. A recently approved HPV vaccine that blocks initial infection with several of the most common sexually transmitted HPV types may lead to further decreases in the incidence of HPV-induced cancer.

    Genital or anal warts (condylomata acuminata or venereal warts) are the most easily recognized sign of genital HPV infection. Although a wide variety of HPV types can cause genital warts, types 6 and 11 account for about 90% of all cases.

    Most people who acquire genital wart-associated HPV types clear the infection rapidly without ever developing warts or any other symptoms. People may transmit the virus to others even if they don't display overt symptoms of infection. However, in the vast majority of cases, this is not a cause for concern if proper tests are routinely administered.

    HPV types that tend to cause genital warts are not the same ones that cause cervical cancer. However, since an individual can be infected with multiple types of HPV, the presence of warts does not rule out the possibility of high risk strains of the virus also being present.

    About a dozen HPV types (including types 16, 18, 31 and 45) are called "high-risk" types because they can lead to cervical cancer, as well as anal cancer, vulvar cancer, head and neck cancers, and penile cancer. HPV-induced cancers often have viral sequences integrated into the cellular DNA. Some of the HPV "early" genes, such as E6 and E7, are known to act as oncogenes that promote tumor growth and malignant transformation.

    The p53 protein prevents cell growth in the presence of DNA damage primarily through the BAX domain, which blocks the anti-apoptotic effects of the mitochondrial BCL-2 receptor. In addition, p53 also upregulates the p21 protein, which blocks the formation of the Cyclin D/Cdk4 complex, thereby preventing the phosphorylation of RB and, in turn, halting cell cycle progression by preventing the activation of E2F. In short, p53 is a tumor suppressor gene that arrests the cell cycle when there is DNA damage. The E6 and E7 proteins work by inhibiting tumor suppression genes involved in that pathway: E6 inhibits p53, while E7 inhibits p53, p21, and RB.

    A history of infection with one or more high-risk HPV types is believed to be a prerequisite for the development of cervical cancer (the vast majority of HPV infections are not high risk); according to the American Cancer Society, women with no history of the virus do not develop this type of cancer. However, most HPV infections are cleared rapidly by the immune system and do not progress to cervical cancer. Because the process of transforming normal cervical cells into cancerous ones is slow, cancer occurs in people who have been infected with HPV for a long time, usually over a decade or more.

    Sexually transmitted HPVs also cause a major fraction of anal cancers and approximately 25% of cancers of the mouth and upper throat (known as the oropharynx). The latter commonly present in the tonsil area and HPV is linked to the increase in oral cancers in non-smokers. Engaging in anal sex or oral sex with an HPV-infected partner may increase the risk of developing these types of cancers.

    On June 8, 2006, the FDA approved Gardasil, a prophylactic HPV vaccine which is marketed by Merck. The vaccine trial, conducted in adult women with a mean age of 23, showed protection against initial infection with HPV types 16 and 18, which together cause 70 percent of cervical cancers. HPV types 16 and 18 also cause anal cancer in men and women. The trial also showed 100% efficacy against persistent infections, not just incident infections. The vaccine also protects against HPV types 6 and 11, which cause 90 percent of genital warts. Women aged nine through twenty-six can be vaccinated, though the trial did not test minors. GlaxoSmithKline is expected to seek approval for a prophylactic vaccine targeting HPV types 16 and 18 early in 2007, known as Cervarix. Since the current vaccine will not protect women against all the HPV types that cause cervical cancer, it will be important for women to continue to seek Pap smear testing, even after receiving the vaccine. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccinating women who have already been diagnosed with HPV (October 2006).

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Health Blogs

Many ladies are nervous before their first pap but the most common thing I hear after we are done is: “that’s it?” The first time does deserve a walkthrough as it is an odd, uncomfortable experience that takes getting used to but as you will see it’s easy-peasy.
1. The other 21st birthday present. Your first pap generally ... Read More »
This past week, these are the questions I’ve been getting from my patients about HPV. Here we go again because we’ve heard about head and neck cancer and HPV. HPV can be a big deal, so here's what you need to know about the Gardasil HPV Vaccine:
1. What does the vaccine do? In an HPV naïve person, the vaccine protects you ... Read More »
A few years ago, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was made available for all girls ages 11 to 12 and for all women up to age 26 who haven’t received the vaccine or all 3 of its doses. At that time, it was targeted at females because of the propensity of different strains of this virus to lead to specific cancers of the female reproductive ... Read More »

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