Together with screening and treatment, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can virtually eliminate cervical cancer. Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV infections, so taking steps to prevent HPV will in turn help protect against cervical cancer. And because a number of other cancers can be caused by HPV—including head and neck cancer, anal cancer, vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer and penile cancer—an HPV vaccination can also lower the risk of developing those malignancies.
The link between HPV and cervical cancer
To understand how HPV causes cervical cancer, it may be helpful to have some knowledge about cancer in general. Cancer is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of cells. Normally, the cells within the body grow and divide as needed. Old and damaged cells die, and new cells replace them. This process occurs according to information found in DNA—proto-oncogenes promote cellular division, and tumor suppressor genes inhibit this division and cause cells to die when appropriate. When cancer develops, however, this system fails and the cancerous cells multiply out of control.
So, how does HPV lead to the development of cervical cancer? When a woman acquires a certain type of HPV, the virus can alter the DNA responsible for regulating cell division. The resulting mutations create oncogenes that direct continuous, unrestricted cell division and render certain tumor suppressor genes ineffective, thereby allowing the cells lining the woman’s cervix to grow at an uncontrolled rate. It’s important to note that not everyone who contracts HPV develops cervical cancer.
Prevention is key
If you have tweens or adolescents, be sure they get their HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers. If you are 21 years and older, get screened regularly for cervical cancer. When it is caught early, treatment is less invasive.
Cervical cancer treatment at Moffitt
If you suspect you have cervical cancer, turn to turn to Moffitt Cancer Center’s gynecological clinic. You can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing a new patient registration form online.