In a disconcerting trend, there has been an increase in the number of women experiencing precancerous growths on the genitals. As reported in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, the number of women who have had these growths has increased fourfold between 1973 and 2000, with women in their 40s the most affected. These growths are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and, although they do not always actually develop into cancer, doctors recommend that they be removed as a preventive measure.
One hypothesis for the increase in genital precancerous growths is a rise in the number of sexual partners that Americans have, and the resulting increase in the spread of sexually transmitted HPV. Overall, more than half of sexually active adults become infected with HPV, and an estimated 80 percent of women will have been exposed to HPV at some point by the age of 50 an alarmingly high statistic. Although in most people an HPV infection is not dangerous and is fought off by the person s own immune system, in some, HPV can lead to vulvar, anal, or cervical cancer.
Considering that the HPV vaccine is effective against HPV infection and can prevent the development of these precancerous genital growths, this rise in growths among women provides yet another argument for the importance of the HPV vaccine. ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan argues that, although the vaccine is generally targeted to adolescent girls before they have become sexually active, adult women past this age may benefit as well. Any woman who has not already been infected with either of the two strains of HPV that are linked to cancer types 16 and 18 would benefit from the protective effects of the vaccine, she says.