Health Disparities in HPV-Related Cancers
With 43 million infections in 2018 alone, it's no wonder the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States.
HPV is linked to a number of cancers, primarily cervical cancer, but not everyone is at the same risk of developing HPV-related cancer.
Let's discover more about the nuanced health disparities in HPV-related cancers.
How is HPV linked to cancer?
HPV is a group of more than 200 common viruses, often transmitted sexually or through skin-to-skin contact. Symptoms often include warts, which can appear on the hands, feet, face or genitals.
While most strains of HPV are relatively harmless, some can dramatically increase your risk of developing cancer. Research suggests that HPV potentially causes or increases the risk of certain cancers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "almost all" cervical cancer directly results from HPV. The virus is also strongly linked to anal, vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers. Recent studies suggest that HPV may also increase the chances of developing some types of throat cancer.
Why is there a strong link between HPV and these cancers? According to Cancer Research UK, certain types of HPV change the DNA of your cells over time. The cells can start to grow and, in some cases, can lead to cancer.
Are some people more likely to develop HPV-related cancer?
While HPV can increase the risk of cancer in anyone, certain groups of people could be at a higher risk of developing HPV-related cancers.
According to research, HPV-related cancers affect women more often than men. Common HPV-related cancers include cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis and anus.
Cervical cancer is the fourth-most common cancer in women, with around 604,000 new cases diagnosed in 2020, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Additionally, there were approximately 45,240 vulvar cancer cases in the same year.
Male reproductive cancers occurred less frequently, with an estimated 36,068 newly diagnosed cases of penile cancer and 74,458 cases of testicular cancer worldwide in 2020. Roughly 1 in 250 males receive a testicular cancer diagnosis in their lifetime in the U.S.
HPV-related cancers tend to affect people from ethnic minority backgrounds disproportionately. As one 2020 study suggested, cervical cancer may occur more frequently in Hispanic and Black women than in white women.
A 2008 study also indicated that the incidence rate of vaginal cancer, specifically, invasive squamous cell carcinoma, is 72 percent higher among Black women in comparison with white women. Hispanic women had a 38 percent higher rate of the disease than non-Hispanic women.
A similar pattern emerges for colorectal cancer. According to a 2011 study, Japanese American men and women and African American women were found to be at increased risk of developing this form of cancer in comparison with white men and women.
Certain HPV-related cancers may become more or less likely depending on your age. For example, cervical cancer appears most frequently in women ages 30 to 34.
Vulvar cancer becomes more and more common after age 35 and occurs most frequently in women ages 90 and older. Penile cancer is rare for people younger than 40 and occurs most commonly in people older than 60.
Factors such as income and location may also affect how likely someone is to develop HPV-related cancer.
Women who have a higher income and live in economically prosperous areas and countries, for example, are more likely to attend regular cervical screenings, which often prevent cervical cancer from developing and spreading.
Cancer appears to be more prevalent in deprived areas.
The bottom line
HPV is a common virus. Some people infected with the virus may not have symptoms. However, some forms of HPV, mainly those transmitted sexually, may increase your chances of developing certain forms of cancer, such as cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis and throat.
While HPV can increase the risk of these cancers, factors such as sex, age, location and socioeconomic status may also potentially contribute to your risk.
If you have noticed changes in your body after being diagnosed with HPV, always speak to your doctor about your concerns. If you need to find a healthcare professional, try Giddy Telehealth. The simple online portal offers an easy way to connect with numerous healthcare professionals in various specialties.