Between 1992 and 2012 human papillomavirus (HPV) related cancers increased roughly 56 per cent in males, and roughly 17 per cent in females, according to Dr. Peter Spafford of the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.
According to Spafford, HPV has now surpassed cigarette smoking as the leading cause of throat cancer in Canada, with roughly 80 per cent of the world’s population becoming infected with HPV at one point in their lives.
“The incidents of acquisition of the human papillomavirus in your lifetime, of all human beings … is over 80 per cent. So in that regard it is almost ubiquitous,” Spafford said on the large-scale impact of the virus.
“When you look at the charts you see that all smoking induced cancer has gone down a tiny bit, but we have seen a skyrocket in the cases of HPV induced throat cancer.”
Spafford added the importance of discussions such as these is not only to raise awareness on the virus itself and the effects it can have, but also on the vaccines that have been made available to prevent the virus.
A vaccination has been made available for free to Grade 6 boys and girls throughout Saskatchewan, with the vaccine available to anyone as young as nine years old.
“The thought is that you may acquire the virus at whatever age, but the cancer won’t present for 20 or 25 years, which makes it very difficult for us to study,” Spafford said.
The event, which was held by the Canadian Cancer Society as a part of Women’s Cancer Awareness Month, was intended to inform people of the benefits of the vaccine that has already been made available for HPV.
Spafford added HPV does not act in a manner similar to most other viruses, saying that compared to other sexually transmitted diseases such as Hepatitis B, HPV spreads incredibly easily, but is also entirely preventable with a vaccination.
The vaccine for HPV has no major noted side-effects according to Spafford, and guarantees an immunity to HPV for up to nine years. Children are urged to receive the vaccine as young as nine because the vaccination needs to be administered two years before contact of the virus.
Charlene Bernard, unit manager for the Prince Albert office of the Canadian Cancer Society, said she was glad to see so many people attending the event, and stressed the importance of awareness when it comes to viruses such as HPV.
“HPV is associated with cervical cancer for women, but there is less known about the oral cancers it can cause, and there has been a rise in the oral cancers it can cause. So this is really about how important the vaccine is for not just girls, but for girls and boys,” she said.
The HPV vaccine is available to anyone in Canada who wishes to acquire it from their physician. Individuals who are in non-monogamous relationships are at the highest risk of acquiring the virus, according to Spafford.
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