What are HPV -16 and -18 and Their Implications?
HPV-16 and -18 are the two strains of the Human Papillomavirus
that have been linked irrefutably with cervical cancer
in women. Statistics show that virtually all women diagnosed
with cervical cancer are also infected with one or both
of these HPV strains. This makes these strains of HPV
among the highest risk of all the identified HPV strains.
HPV is transmitted through skin to skin contact with
an infected person. All sexually active men and women
are at risk of being infected with HPV, with those up
to the age of 26 being in the high-risk category. This
highly contagious virus is classified as a Sexually
Transmitted Disease and is the most common STD in the
United States at the present time.
One of the difficulties with HPV-16 and -18 is that
neither strain produces any symptoms. This means that
women can be unaware that they have been infected. Cervical
cell abnormalities can be picked up during a Pap test
but if an infected woman doesn't have regular Pap tests,
as strongly recommended by health authorities, she could
have already have developed early cancer, or worse,
before she realizes that something is wrong. A Pap test
doesn't actually diagnose the presence of HPV but the
cell abnormalities would lead to further investigation
and their advance to cancer could be halted.
There is an HPV tests available for women and those
over the age of 30 are advised to ask for an HPV test
to be done at the same time as their regular Pap test.
Both tests can be carried out on the one sample collected
during the Pap test. The reason for women over 30 need
to be tested is that HPV can be slow to develop and
the strains 16 and 18 can take years to surface. There
is currently no HPV test for men.
An HPV vaccine has been developed that aims to protect
against the two strains that can lead to cervical cancer
in women. These are designed to be administered to girls
aged 9 to 12, before they become sexually active and
risk HPV infection. Older women in their twenties might
also get protection from the vaccine if they haven't
been exposed to these two high-risk strains of HPV.
Of the two brands of vaccine available, one targets
just these two high-risk strains while the other, Gardasil,
also targets two of the strains that lead to other genital
cancers such as vaginal, vulval, anal, penile and oral.
Gardasil can be given to young girls and women as well
as boys aged 9 to 15.
Many cases of HPV clear away on their own without any
intervention, which is good because there is no cure.
HPV treatments are aimed at the symptoms of the virus.
A strong immune system is the best defence against HPV
infection as it is capable of removing the virus from
the body. The strains of HPV that produce the symptom
of genital warts are different to HPV-16 and -18.
The best way for a woman to protect herself against
the potentially dangerous HPV-16 and HPV-18 is to maintain
a strong immune system with healthy lifestyle choices,
to have regular Pap tests and be vaccinated against
these HPV strains if she is in her early twenties.