The Human Papillomavirus and New Research Underway

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted disease that is passed through skin-to-skin contact. HPV is primarily spread through sexual intercourse, but it can be spread through any sexual contact. Since many people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from the virus, individuals do not always know they are infected with HPV. In many cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years of infection.

There are over 100 different types of HPV. Approximately 40 of the types infect the genital areas of men and women. Approximately 12 types of HPV are known to cause genital warts and approximately 15 types are linked to cancer of the anus, cervix, vulva, vagina and penis.

Since HPV is so common, it is important for both women and men to take preventative measures to minimize their risk of infection. Individuals can help reduce the risk of infection by limiting his or her number of sexual partners, using condoms during sexual intercourse and getting vaccinated. Gardasil, a vaccine that is now approved for females and males ages nine to 26, protects against four strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV).  In females, Gardasil helps protect against the two types of HPV that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and two additional types that cause 90 percent of genital warts cases. In males, Gardasil helps protect against 90 percent of genital warts cases. Gardasil is ideally given to patients before they become sexually active.

Virginia Women’s Center was the only research site in the Richmond area involved in the clinical trial leading to the approval of the Gardasil vaccine in 2006. Currently, there are two HPV studies enrolling at Virginia Women’s Center. The first study will be evaluating Gardasil again, but this time five more strains of HPV are being added to the current vaccine to determine if it is effective and safe. The investigational vaccine is being tested in both men and women. To learn more about this study or to see who is eligible, visit our Web site.

The second study will be evaluating the effectiveness of a new vaccine that would treat women who have HPV and the precancerous lesions associated with it. The hope is that the vaccine will stimulate the woman’s immune system to fight the precancerous lesions and resolve the process, before it progresses to cervical cancer. Currently, for women who have HPV and precancerous lesions, a surgical procedure which removes the tissue is the only option to keep the disease from progressing to cervical cancer. To learn more about this study or to see who is eligible, visit our Web site.

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