However, in some cases, the papillomavirus causes tumors of the oropharynx (tonsils, base of the tongue and soft palate), anus, vulva, cervix and penis.
The reason for this different behavior is not yet clear; it is probably related to insufficient action of the immune system at the time of infection, leading to chronicity.
What happens when you come into contact with the HPV virus?
HPV is a very common virus that forms a family of more than 100 different variants.
Depending on the species and family of the virus strain that you come into contact with, the effects of an infection are very different:
- asymptomatic in some cases;
- responsible for verrucoid lesions in others;
- which cause malignant tumors in more severe cases and belong mainly to tribe 16.
Specifically, HPV is responsible for almost all cervical cancers, approximately 95% of anus cancers, 26% of oropharyngeal cancers in Italy and 70% in the US, 65% of vaginal cancers, 50% of vulvar cancers and 35% the penile cancer.
How do you get HPV and how do you find out you have it?
HPV is transmitted when diseased skin and mucous membranes come into contact with those of a healthy person, for example during vaginal, anal and oral sex.
For this reason, habitual practice with multiple partners and promiscuous sex are considered high-risk behaviors.
Infection is often asymptomatic and tumors sometimes develop long after infection, so patients often do not realize they have contracted it and doctors cannot date when the virus was contracted.
Secondary prevention is therefore essential, represented by annual gynecological check-ups according to the guidelines, Pap tests and HPV tests, even for women vaccinated against the virus.
For men, on the other hand, no special examinations are required as there is no standardized and routine screening procedure, but vaccination is still recommended as a method of primary prevention of the disease.
Can HPV infection be cured?
To date, there is no cure for HPV infection.
People often recover without symptoms and without realizing it: around 90% of infections are spontaneous and clear up due to the production of antibodies by the immune system.
However, some viruses such as HPV 16 and 18 are more aggressive than others, infection does not elicit a detectable immune response which can even lead to reactivation of the virus over time.
Prevention for HPV
Primary prevention is through vaccination and a healthy lifestyle: Cervical cancer can be prevented by vaccination against the most common types of HPV, which is recommended for both men and women.
In addition, with any vaginal, anal or oral sex, it is recommended to use condoms or dental dams, thin rectangular sheets of soft latex or silicone that cover the mucous membranes during oral sex.
Tumors of the oropharynx: how to tell if HPV is the cause?
Most patients who contract the infection overcome it without consequences.
However, for unknown reasons, some people fail to recover, and the virus lurks within cells, creating a type of chronic inflammatory stimulus that over the years causes cell damage and leads to tumor degeneration.
When diagnosing a tumor that can be correlated with the virus (e.g. of the oropharynx or cervix), the intracellular presence of HPV is also tested: this is the only way to determine the involvement of the virus.
Treatment and care of HPV tumors of the oropharynx
Patients with HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancer respond better to cancer treatment than patients with the same non-HPV tumor.
The therapeutic decision is made based on the stage, location, extent of the disease and the general condition of the patient, taking into account any other diseases the patient may have.
Studies show that patients who develop HPV-related cancers, regardless of severity, have a significant likelihood of developing other HPV-related cancers up to 25 years after diagnosis.
Smoking and alcohol, an additional risk
Heavy smokers and drinkers have a higher risk of developing mouth, nose and throat cancer, and although HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer can occur regardless of these risk factors, it does
- worsen inflammation
- increase the risk of developing cancer;
- worsen the prognosis once they occur.
In fact, there is evidence that heavy smokers and heavy drinkers live shorter lives and are more likely to develop tumors that respond less effectively to treatment.
How to prevent mouth, nose and throat cancer
Oropharyngeal carcinoma caused by the papilloma virus can be prevented by not smoking and alcohol and by vaccination against HPV: it has been shown that the higher the number of antibodies, the less likely it is that you will develop virus-related cancer.
Vaccination makes it possible
- achieve a 100 percent response to infection and prevent the virus from escaping the immune system;
- Promotion of significantly higher antibody production with a sustained immune response over 14 years after vaccination without immunological boosters;
- prevent reactivation of the virus even in patients who have already been exposed to the virus.
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