Pass the biscuits, and watch your mouth

March 1, 2003
Pass the biscuits, and watch your mouth
By Celia Stevens, EditorHuman papilloma virus (HPV) would definitely not be a topic approved for polite dinner table conversation in the home where I grew up. Thats no surprise. When we did a Web search for art ideas for this issue of MLO, we could see why: The photos we found of HPV were scarily ugly. Just be glad our cytologist/artist friend Suzanne Adams let us use her pretty pastel Pap smear drawing on our cover!Seriously, cervical cancer the second most common form of cancer among women isnt a pretty picture, either. Each year, about 5,000 American women die of cancer of the cervix, and another 15,000 are diagnosed with the disease. Its now clear that nearly all cervical cancers are linked to one of the cancer-causing strains of HPV. If you never develop HPV, the chances are great that you will never get cervical cancer. HPV is important, because the understanding of HPV that the medical community has gained in the past few years is sure to make an extraordinary difference in womens health in the future. One day, we will be able to get a simple vaccination that will prevent women from acquiring HPV, which should keep us safe from cervical cancer.What do we know about HPV? We know that its the most prevalent sexually-transmitted disease in the world, occurring at some point in up to 75 percent of sexually active women, a shocking rate indeed. And, most people who are infected dont know it, because often there are no noticeable symptoms.We do know that there are several risk factors for
Sexual activity, especially beginning before age 20.Multiple sexual partners.Exposure to STDs.Mother or sister with cervical cancer.Smoking.Immunosuppression (such as HIV/AIDS or chronic corticosteroid use for asthma or lupus).At least two vaccines that could prevent HPV are being tested, but estimates are that it will be several years before either are marketed. Theres also an attempt to develop a therapeutic vaccine that would boost the immune system of someone already infected with the virus and help her fight off the cancer. However, because theres not yet a vaccine on the market to prevent HPV infection, primary prevention of cervical cancer hinges on the use of condoms and making choices that decrease a persons risk of becoming infected.For women already hit by HPV, it is important that early, treatable precancerous lesions are identified and treated before the lesions become malignant.New DNA testing methods for HPV have revolutionized cervical cancer screening. Drs. John Vernick and Carmen Steigman do a good job of explaining the new HPV DNA virus capture assay for us this month.Testing for genital warts. Share this knowledge with your colleagues, patients and friends. Just remember not to bring up the subject at the dinner table.Celia Stevens
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2003 Nelson Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.