Health Beat

Health Beat: HPV cancers on the rise

Health Beat: HPV cancers on the rise

PITTSBURGH - Steve Wilson is a medical pathologist. He spends his days identifying dangerous diseases.    

"I have a heightened sense of awareness of cancer, and maybe to some extent, fear of cancer," Wilson said.

Wilson was on vacation in the Caribbean in December 2015 when he felt a lump on his neck. The lump was cancer.    

"It was what I was expecting and what I was afraid of," he said.

Dr. Umamaheswar Duvvuri, an otolaryngologist at UPMC in Pittsburgh, is a head, neck and throat specialist. Duvvuri said, at one time, oral cancer was linked primarily to smoking, but head and neck cancers are now more often caused by the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus, HPV.

"The reality is there is no treatment for the viral infection itself, which is why we need to vaccinate people to prevent them from getting the virus to begin with," Duvvuri explained.

The CDC recommends boys and girls receive two doses of an HPV vaccine before they become sexually active. 

A new study found 93 percent of all HPV caused cancers were preventable with the vaccine. Still, only 40 percent of all teen girls and 22 percent of the boys have been vaccinated.

"I think, nationwide, we should have this mandated," Duvvuri said. "I believe this vaccine is efficacious and safe."

Wilson wishes the HPV vaccine had been an option years ago.

"All of us who are 40 and above, we're all at risk for this, and we don't know if we're going to have it or not have it," Wilson said.

Radiation and chemotherapy knocked back Wilson's cancer. Now, he's back helping detect disease in others. 

Only Rhode Island, Virginia and the District of Columbia mandate middle school-aged children have the HPV vaccine, according to the Immunization Action Coalition. Since 2008, Canada has introduced HPV immunization programs for all adolescent girls between grades 4 and 7.


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