|Doctor William Brian McNaull. — Photo courtesy of Family Medical Practice|
By Dr Brian McNaull*
You might be surprised to learn that sexual contact, including oral sex and kissing can give you throat cancer. Oral cancers caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) have skyrocketed 225 per cent in the past 15 years, with men accounting for 75 per cent of all cases.
Much of the information out there about HPV virus centres on women, since having certain strains of the virus increases their risk of cervical cancer. But HPV virus in men can cause health issues, too. It’s important for men to understand how to reduce the risks.
What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a common virus that affects both males and females. There are more than 100 types. In fact, certain types cause common warts on the hands and feet. Most types of HPV are harmless, do not cause any symptoms, and go away on their own.
Some affect the genitals and up to 80 per cent of males and females will be infected with at least one type of genital HPV at some time.
HPV is easily spread through direct skin to skin contact. Anyone who has any kind of sexual activity involving genital contact could get genital HPV. That means it’s possible to get the virus without having intercourse. And, because many people who have HPV may not show any signs or symptoms, they can transmit the virus without even knowing it. A person can be infected with more than one type of HPV.
It is estimated that many people get their first type of HPV infection within their first few years of becoming sexually active.
Genital HPV infection is very common and for the majority of people, the body’s defences are enough to clear it up. Most, up to 90 per cent, are cleared up within 36 months.
Do I have HPV infection?
Because HPV infection does not usually show signs, you probably won’t know you have it and could thus pass it on inadvertently. Most women first become aware of infection when they have a Pap smear. The virus can cause cellular change (pre-cancerous) to the cervix and this is detected on the Pap smear, and warts can be detected on the genitalia.
Consequences of HPV Infection?
In most people HPV is harmless, but in some people the virus may persist and result in disease of the genital area, including:
In males: genital warts and some anal cancers.
In females: cervical cancer, some vaginal, vulval and anal cancers and genital warts.
Can men be tested for HPV?
Yes and no. Although HPV testing for men is used in some research studies, it is not commonly done.
Men cannot really know, then, if they carry HPV, except if they have genital warts. Warts can be biopsied but this is also rarely done. Most warts are treated by liquid nitrogen application or electro-cautery.
Means of protection?
* Safe Sex
If used correctly, condoms can help reduce the risk of genital HPV. However condoms don’t provide 100% protection since HPV is transmitted through genital skin contact not just sexual intercourse. It is important to remember that condoms also provide protection against other sexually transmitted diseases.
* HPV vaccination
In males vaccinations may help protect against genital warts and some anal cancers.
In females, vaccination may help protect against cervical cancer, some vaginal, vulval and anal cancers and genital warts.
Approved vaccines, are active against four HPV strains. Virtually all cervical cancer is caused by HPV, of which HPV 16 and 18 account for 70 per cent. HPV 16 and 18 are also found in 93 per cent of HPV- related anal cancers, 87 per cent of HPV-related penile cancers and 70 per cent of HPV-related cancers of the tongue and throat.
Therefore, HPV vaccination is strongly recommended for girls and women between the ages of nine and 45 and males between nine and 26. Ideally vaccination should occur prior to starting sexual activity, before being exposed to the HPV virus.— Family Medical Practice Vietnam
* Doctor William Brian McNaull serves as Medical Director at Family Medical Practice Hanoi. He brings extensive experience to the practice.
For more advice on the HPV programme or other medical topics, visit Family Medical Practice Hanoi at 298 Kim Mã Street, Ba Đình. Tel: (04) 3843 0748. E: email@example.com. Family Medical Practice’s downtown Hồ Chi Minh clinics are located at Diamond Plaza, 34 Lê Duẩn, District 1 and at 95 Thảo Điền Street, District 2. Tel: (08) 38227848. E: firstname.lastname@example.org. FMP Danang is located at 96-98 Nguyễn Văn Linh Street, Hải Châu District, Đà Nẵng. Tel: (511) 3582 699. E: email@example.com.