Letters to the Editor

Clarification of HPV research

Re: “Moffitt delving into the other side of HPV” by Christine Gibson, June 14, 2007

Your article was an excellent example of how news and public service can often be delivered together: The Oracle did a great job of describing human papillomavirus (HPV), including how it is spread and how common the virus is among sexually active individuals. Your article also described the important research projects related to HPV that are being carried out at the Moffitt Cancer Center. As principal investigator of the Cognitive and Emotional Responses to HPV in Men (the CER Study), one of the research projects that Martha Abrahamsen directs, I can attest both to the importance of this work and the timeliness of the research, especially in light of the new HPV vaccine.

Making sense of HPV is not easy: it is a virus that is extremely common, although most people don’t know when they’ve been infected with it because it may not have any obvious physical signs. There are over 100 known types within the HPV family, some of which are benign and some which may (but usually do not) progress on to different types of cancer. Most people who get HPV will not need treatment, either of the benign genital warts, or the more serious cancer-causing types, because the body may clear up the infection on its own.

The HPV vaccine is controversial, as you noted in your article, and differing opinions add to the general confusion surrounding any discussion about HPV.

However, in an effort to reduce any further misunderstanding about the virus or the vaccine, I would like to clarify one point made by a USF Public Health graduate student in the article, who said, “HPV is so common and researchers are not quite sure which strains cause the cancer – the likelihood of the virus causing cancer is so small.” In fact, researchers know which strains cause cervical cancer, and have made sure that the vaccine currently on the market works against the two strains that cause 70 percent of all cervical cancer, types 16 and 18. In addition, the likelihood of the virus causing the cancer is virtually 100 percent. It may be that the student meant that cancer may only occur in a small number of individuals infected with the virus, but the quote in the article implied otherwise – an error that leads to further confusion in an already complex topic.

Dr. Ellen Daley is an assistant professor in Community and Family Health at the USF College of Public Health.