Majority of Irish adults lack a clear understanding of HPV and its connections with cancer, study reveals
Most people will contract it, so you had better get to know it.
Two thirds of Irish adults are unaware that HPV can cause cancer, according to a recent study.
The Human Papillomavirus virus is one of the most commonly transmitted STI's, which groups together approximately 150 related viruses. It is so common that almost all adults will contract the virus at some point in their lifetime, and although the majority of infections are harmless, the virus can lead to heath issues such as genital warts and cervical cancer.
However, according to a survey conducted by pharmaceutical company MSD, 65% of Irish adults are not aware that the virus can cause cancer.
The study, which interviewed 1,000 Irish adults, found that 59% were not aware that there are vaccines that can prevent infections that cause cancer, while a staggering 87% falsely believed that they have never been exposed to the virus.
In addition, the study revealed that more than one-third (38%) of Irish adults falsely believed that HPV cannot be transmitted from one person to another, when in fact it can be contracted through skin-to-skin contact.
The findings were announced to mark the first annual International HPV Awareness Day, with the study going on to point out that HPV has caused approximately 420 cases of cancer in Irish men and women each year between 2010 and 2014. Within this figure, up to 130 Irish men and women were found to have died from cancers caused by the infection annually.
Infections usually clear up by themselves, but in instances when they do not, they can result in cancer. One major issue is also the fact that a person cannot tell if somebody has the virus as most infections do not come with clinical symptoms. This means that a person will often not know they have it, and can continue transmitting the virus to unsuspecting others.
Commenting on the study, Donal Buggy, Head of Services and Advocacy, Irish Cancer Society, said: "Awareness of vaccines to prevent cancers in men is particularly low."
"While 335 women are diagnosed with cancers caused by HPV each year, it is also important to note that 85 men in Ireland annually develop a cancer which could potentially be prevented by a simple vaccination. Irish Cancer Society believes it is time for Ireland to offer equal protection against HPV-caused cancers for boys and girls."
Professor Ray O’Sullivan, Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, St Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny, said: "In many cases, these HPV-related cancers, such as cervical cancer and anal cancer, are preventable through implementation of a National HPV Immunisation Programme and in the case of cervical cancer, both immunisation and cervical screening."
"There is no treatment for HPV infection and if it doesn’t clear up by itself, it can manifest as cancer later in life. If you haven’t been protected from HPV infection, you’re at risk of HPV infection and therefore, at risk of HPV-related cancers."
Back in September, Independent TD and super-junior minister of Health, Finian McGrath was reported in The Sunday Times for having called for a ban on Gardasil, a vaccination used to prevent the virus.
Responding to McGrath's stance, Minister for Health Simon Harris released a statement saying, "Ministers Harris and McGrath agree that the people qualified to give advice on vaccines are medical professionals and they would encourage parents to take advice from them."
The statement also says that Deputy McGrath "assured Minister Harris that he supports the new campaign to encourage parents to avail of the HPV vaccine which saves lives."