Posts Tagged ‘gynecologic cancer’

Get the Real 4-1-1 on HPV

Cervical Cancer Awareness HPVWho could have imagined that a three-letter virus – HPV — could generate so much confusion and controversy?

Oh, wait, there is precedence for all the political posturing, fear and mis-information about HPV, the human papillomavirus, one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. We saw the same take place around HIV, a far more deadly virus and one that continues to wreak havoc and claims thousands of lives a year. And it took decades of advocacy, much of which is still ongoing, to bring attention to the need to stop HIV in its tracks, before it leads to AIDS. That same advocacy and public health campaigning is now underway to help consumers better understand HPV and what people can do about it, and how important it is for young people to receive vaccines that can protect them from infection with the virus.

Researchers have identified more than 40 types of HPV, a very common virus that the human body normally sheds on its own. Two types – HPV 16 and HPV 18 — are of special concern in the cancer community, though, because, undetected and untreated, they lead to most cases of cervical cancer. Now one of them, HPV16, is proving to be the cause of most new cases of throat cancers that develop at the base of the tongue and tonsils.

Routine pap tests and annual gynecological exams have lowered cervical cancer incidence in the United States, but cervical cancer is still one of the leading cancer killers of women worldwide. Thus, great research emphasis was placed on finding a vaccine to prevent infection with HPV 16 and 18 in the first place. Now there are two such HPV vaccines licensed by the FDA to prevent the spread of HPV and thus to prevent cervical cancer.

While screening with the Pap test has long proven an effective way to help prevent cervical cancer in developed countries, screening for HPV 16 infection for throat or other kinds of cancer would be fruitless. While 20 million Americans are estimated to be living with HPV 16 in their systems, 90% of those people will clear the virus on their own. A big concern with HPV 16 and throat cancer is that doctors do not yet understand why the virus becomes cancer in some.

Because the virus is so widespread yet causes cancer in a relatively small percentage of cases of infection, screening for it does not make sense, explains Dr. Shin, a leading head and neck cancer specialist at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. The most important unanswered question about HPV16 and throat cancer is why does it develop into cancer in some people but not in the majority of people.

“How does this virus get into a host cell and then go into carcinogenesis? This is what we would like to address,” explains Dr. Dong Moon Shin. Winship researchers such as Shin are aggressively looking for answers.

Much of the confusion and political hoopla about HPV have stemmed from misinformation about the vaccine, which is unfortunate. The vaccine is safe. It is effective. Because of the rising incidence of oropharyngeal cancer, it is now advised that both girls and boys also receive the vaccine, which is given in a series of three shots. To be effective, the shots must be given before a girl or boy becomes sexually active and is not administered to females after they hit age 26. Some of the concern about the vaccine is that parents don’t like the idea of giving children another round of vaccines, but the HPV vaccines have been approved by the FDA after rigorous clinical trials. They work.

HPV facts & stats:

  • More than 40 types of HPV have been identified by researchers.
  • More than 20 million adult Americans are believed to be living with the HPV 16 virus.
  • In 90 percent of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV within two years.

Prognosis for cases of HPV16-caused throat cancer is good, so long as the patient is a non-smoker. Winship researchers and others are looking for ways to identify whether patients with HPV16-caused throat cancer need as much treatment as patients whose cancer is not caused by the virus.

Dr. Peter Rossi and Dr. Namita Khanna just hosted an online chat on the topic of HPV and cervical cancer. For their thoughts, check out the HPV / Cervical Cancer chat transcript.

Related Resources:

Get the 4-1-1 on Ovarian Cancer & Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and as the fifth most common cancer among women in the U.S., we want to share with you some general ovarian cancer information with you and steps you can take to assess your risk for ovarian cancer, and support your body in preventing such a disease.

Ovarian cancer is a gynecologic cancer that the National Cancer Institute (NCI) describes ovarian cancer as, “cancer that forms in tissues of the ovary (one of a pair of female reproductive glands in which the ova, or eggs, are formed). Most ovarian cancers are either ovarian epithelial carcinomas (cancer that begins in the cells on the surface of the ovary) or malignant germ cell tumors (cancer that begins in egg cells).”1 The NCI estimates that there will be 21,990 new cases of ovarian cancer in the United States in 2011, and that deaths from ovarian cancer in 2011 will hit 15,460.

Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors

  • Family history of cancer - A family history  of ovarian, breast, uterus, and rectal cancer. Keep in mind that paternal history is also important – that is, your father’s mother or sister’s having had ovarian or breast cancer puts you at higher risk.
  • Age - About 90%of women who get ovarian cancer are over the age of 40. Women over the age of 55 are at higher risk.
  • Never been pregnant - women who have given birth or been pregnant are at a lower risk for ovarian cancer than women who have never been pregnant.
  • Personal history of cancer - according to the NCI, women who have had breast, uterus, colon or rectal cancer are at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

  • Pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back, or legs
  • A swollen or bloated abdomen
  • Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Feeling very tired all the time
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling the need to urinate often
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding (heavy periods, or bleeding after menopause)

Ovarian Cancer Detection

Contrary to popular belief, pap tests or pap smears do not test for ovarian cancer. If you have any of the ovarian cancer symptoms listed above, you should see your doctor, who may recommend a more involved test, such as a rectovaginal pelvic exam or a transvaginal ultrasound.

Ovarian Cancer Prevention

Birth Control

You’ll need to consult with your physician to determine if birth control is a right for you, but women who use oral contraceptives may be at lower risk for ovarian cancer.

Nutrition

In general, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, among others, are known to contain vital nutrients that may help prevent cancer. Aside from maintaining a healthy diet, there are a few foods and beverages that studies have shown may be extremely powerful in preventing ovarian cancer:

Tea – Tea contains flavonoids that may also help prevent ovarian cancer. In fact, researchers in Sweden looked at tea consumption and ovarian cancer in more than 60,000 women over 15 years and discovered that women who drank two or more cups of tea a day had a 46 percent lower risk of ovarian cancer than those who didn’t drink tea.2
Tomatoes - Tomatoes contain lycopenes, and a study from the American Cancer Society shows that women who ate two or more one-half cup servings of tomato sauce per week had a 40 percent decrease in risk for ovarian cancer, compared to women who reported eating tomato sauce less than once a month.3

Lowering Ovarian Cancer Risk

Many risk factors for ovarian cancer, such as some of those listed above, cannot be prevented. While we can’t control our age or our family’s history of cancer, we can increase the protective and preventive steps we take to improve our overall health and help protect ourselves from cancers, such as ovarian cancer. Participating in regular exercise, reducing stress, avoiding smoking, and prioritizing good nutrition are all necessary steps to take when improving health and lowering cancer risk.

For more information on ovarian cancer, you can visit the National Cancer Institute’s website on the topic. For information on how ovarian cancer is treated at an NCI designated cancer center, check out the Winship Cancer Institute’s ovarian cancer information.

The content of this blog post has been reviewed by a physician at the Winship Cancer Institute, Georgia’s only NCI-designated Cancer Center.