According to David Brown, MD, of The Toledo Clinic Cancers, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women and causes 260,000 deaths worldwide annually. He also notes that virtually 100 percent of cervical cancer cases are attributable to a single factor—infection with human papillomavirus, or HPV.
This common sexually transmitted disease is linked with several other cancers as well. “For example, HPV is associated with vaginal and vulvar cancers in women, though not 100 percent, as well as with anal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer in both men and women. The connection between HPV and oropharyngeal cancer is especially strong in men. In fact, approximately 60 percent of oropharyngeal cancer cases in men are now related to HPV,” Dr. Brown says.
How does HPV infection lead to cancer? Dr. Brown explains that the virus produces proteins that change the DNA machinery of cells, which allows them to become malignant. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are numerous HPV genotypes and not all forms put people at risk of developing cancer. Furthermore, even among people infected with a form of HPV known to increase cancer risk, not all will go on to develop cancer. In most cases, the body’s immune system will get rid of the infection naturally over time.
Nonetheless, the best policy when it comes to HPV exposure is prevention. The positive news on that front is that a vaccine is available that helps protect people against HPV and the cancers associated with it. Worldwide there are three different HPV vaccines, but the one available in the United States is Gardasil 9.
Who should get the vaccine? Dr. Brown advises, “Vaccination should be routine for ages 11 to 12. Adolescents and adults between the ages of 13 and 26 should be vaccinated as well. For people age 27 and older, you have to decide on an individual basis whether vaccination is appropriate or not. That’s the consensus among all expert groups in the US and Europe, including the American Association of Pediatrics.”
In addition to getting vaccinated against HPV, a sound approach to prevention must also include avoiding high-risk behaviors, such as having unprotected sex of any form, becoming sexually active at a young age, having many sexual partners, or having close skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual.
Dr. Brown notes that the field of oncology and much of the ongoing cancer research is focused on finding immunological approaches to cancer prevention and treatment. “With HPV, we’re already there. We have a vaccine that prevents the infections that can lead to these malignancies. If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is,” he says.
The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers, located at 4126 N. Holland Sylvania Road, Suite 105, also provides imaging, laboratory, chemotherapy, and IV services. The cancer center consists of 8 medical and 2 radiation oncologists along with 8 nurse practitioners and 4 research nurses. The cancer center also has satellite centers in Maumee, Napoleon, Bowling Green, Wauseon, and Monroe.
The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers has earned Patient-Centered Specialty Practice level 3 recognition and Oncology Medical Home recognition from the National Committee for Quality Assurance. Oncology homes align systems and resources with coordinated care focused on cancer patients and their needs. This reduces fragmentation, supports shared decision making, and improves the patient experience. They are the first oncology practice in the state of Michigan and the second oncology practice in the state of Ohio to receive this recognition.
For more information, please call The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers at 419-479-5605.