Known to cause cancer of the cervix, this virus can also lead to cancer of the throat, anus, penis or vagina. A vaccine to be carried out in adolescence exists.
A few months after having made public his fight against a tumor linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV), Arthur Sadoun, boss of the global communication group Publicis, launched an appeal on Tuesday to large companies to “break the taboo of cancer at work” and remember the importance of vaccination. “Do you know that 80% of adults have the papillomavirus?” he asked in a video published in December by Publicis.
“Talking about it is the only way to make people understand the importance of the vaccine which could save so many lives”, declares in this same clip the actor Michael Douglas, who had fought against throat cancer caused by the same virus.
· What is the papillomavirus?
When talking about papillomavirus, the term HPV is used. It means “human papillomavirus” in English, or human papillomavirus. HPVs are “a family of common viruses that are transmitted very easily, almost exclusively by sexual contact (with or without penetration)”, explains the Health Insurance website. It is also “the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI).
“It is a banal and extremely frequent infection, it is 80 to 90% of the population, men and women, who will be in contact with this papillomavirus” during their life, indicates on BFMTV Julia Maruani, medical gynecologist.
“Most of the time the infection is transient and goes away on its own, but for 5 to 10% it persists and can cause lesions on different parts of the body”, specifies the doctor.
· What cancers can it cause?
And it is these lesions that can lead to cancer in the infected person, sometimes years after they have been contaminated. This virus is best known for causing cancer of the cervix, a disease caused 100% by the papillomavirus. Every year about 3000 new cases of cervical cancer are identified and about 1000 women die from it.
But HPVs can also cause vulvar and vaginal cancers.
This virus can also cause “cancers of the anus, whether for men or for women, ENT cancers which are mainly in men, and also penile cancers, but which are still less frequent. “, says Julia Maruani.
According to data from the League Against Cancer, “each year, approximately 6,300 cases of cancers linked to human papillomaviruses are diagnosed in France, in men and women, resulting in 2,900 deaths.” Among the cancers caused by HPV, 25% occur in men, underlines the Ministry of Health.
“The main risk factor for cancer of the cervix, cancer of the vagina, vulva and anus, remains infection with the papillomavirus”, explains Julia Maruani. Regarding ENT cancers, “there is still a co-infection, linked to tobacco and alcohol, but the papillomavirus is responsible for a third of throat cancers.”
· How to detect an infection?
Currently, “the only cancer linked to the papillomavirus which is detectable is that of the cervix”, declares the gynecologist. In this sense “for this organ there is an organized screening where women aged 25 to 65 must take samples from the cervix (…) Thanks to this we treat 35,000 pre-cancerous lesions per year, it is as many cancers avoided”.
For women, “smear screening must be carried out every 3 years from 25 to 30 years old and every 5 years from 30 to 65 years old”, explains the Health Insurance.
For other cancers, there is no screening, but symptoms can be observed in the event of the development of a disease. Regarding the anus, “it can be a feeling of heaviness, discomfort when going to the saddle, bleeding”, details Julia Maruani, and “at the penile level it can be an abnormal lesion, such as redness, a lesion a little raised, oozing.”
On the other hand, “for throat cancers it is very complicated because there are no symptoms at an early stage, they are symptoms at an advanced stage.”
· Can we prevent contamination?
There is a vaccine that protects against papillomavirus infection, recommended since 2007 in France for young girls. “As of January 1, 2021, the recommendations also apply to all boys,” writes the Vaccination Info Service site.
It is recommended from 11 to 14 years old but a catch-up is possible until 19 years old. It is also recommended “up to the age of 26, for men who have or have had sex with other men”, underlines the platform.
All the specialists support the effectiveness of this vaccine because when the injection “is carried out before the start of sexual life, the protection conferred by the vaccine, against the viruses covered by the vaccine, is close to 100%”, indicates Vaccination Info Service. Not all HPVs are covered by vaccination, but the Gardasil vaccine still protects “against infections due to HPV types 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58, which are involved in 90 % of cancers of the cervix”, writes the Health Insurance.
On the other hand, when the vaccination is carried out after the start of the sexual life “the protection is less, because the vaccine does not protect against previous HPV infections.”
· Are we sufficiently vaccinated in France?
Vaccine coverage against the papillomavirus is very low in France today, in 2020 it “was estimated at 41% for a dose at 15 years old (vs. 35% in 2019) and 33% for the complete regimen at 16 years old (vs. . 28% in 2019)”, writes the League against cancer. And “only 6 to 10% of boys would be vaccinated. It’s a real problem,” adds Julia Maruani.
Conversely in Australia, “the vaccination coverage of at least 80% of this population has allowed a reduction of more than 77% of the genotypes responsible for 75% of cancers of the cervix”, assures Health Insurance .
The French health authorities are aiming for 60% vaccination coverage against HPV among adolescents by 2023 and 80% in 2030.
Source: BFM TV