What is HPV?
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and cancer
HPV affects both men and women. It is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, but it's been hitting the headlines recently because of its links to cervical cancer and more recently new links to oral cancer have been discovered. Here's what all the fuss is about.
What is HPV?
The Human Papilloma Virus isn't one virus, more a family of different strains that affect your body in different ways. One strain causes warts and verrucas, and another causes genital warts. But there are also some nastier strains that can cause cancer. Spread through skin-to-skin contact and having sex, it's found in your skin, as well as your cervix, anus, mouth and throat. And it's common. Over 80 per cent of the population will catch HPV at some point in their lives.
Does HPV cause cancer?
Firstly, let's put this in perspective: most people with HPV don't know they've ever caught it. Usually our immune system flushes it out without displaying any symptoms - you may even have it now and be blissfully unaware of it.
However, some high-risk strains of HPV stay put and can cause cells in your body to mutate and become cancerous. Cervical cancer is most commonly associated with HPV.
Can HPV give you mouth/throat/head/oral cancer?
There has been an increase in the number of people developing oral cancer, and some scientists are linking this to oral sex and contracting HPV. But the truth is - we just don't know yet.
"There's still a lot we don't know - there are so many unanswered questions. Evidence at the moment is suggesting people who've had lots of oral sex partners have a higher risk of contracting an oral HPV infection, but the actual cancer risk is unclear," says Jessica Harris, a senior health information officer at Cancer Research.
"There have been studies on oral cancer sufferers, looking at whether or not they have HPV, and the results vary wildly, from 15 to 85 per cent."
How can I protect myself against HPV and other STIs?
Wearing a condoms is always the first step in practicing safer sex. South Downs Sexual Healthcare also offers Gardasil vaccination against HPV , and therefore can help dramatically reduce the chances of getting cervical cancer or other HPV mediated cancers.