HPV is the most common sexually transmitted viral infection in the world. The virus is highly contagious and spread by skin-to-skin contact, infecting both men and women. 3 in 4 sexually active individuals will have contracted at least one of the over 200 different types of HPV in their lifetime. Although many strains of HPV are known to be non-symptomatic, and clear up on their own, other strains cause genital warts or can lead to cancer.
HPV infection has been known to cause 6 cancers (head & neck, cervical, anal, vulvar, vaginal, and penile). HPV related cancers affect both male and female, and are increasing, except cervical cancer. This is direct result of an increase in screening and awareness. Other HPV associated cancers are often detected late, making them more difficult to treat. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made the situation worse, due to reduced regular care including physical examinations, cancer screening, and HPV immunizations. The medical community expects a significant rise in these cancers in the coming years.
The good news! HPV associated complications and cancers are preventable. Through proper screening, health promotion, health education and encouraging their patients to receive the HPV vaccine, medical professionals can dramatically reduce the risk of disease for their patients. Nurses working in primary care as part of their patients’ medical teams have a key role to play:
· Initiate the conversation: Assess for at-risk behavior and provide patient counselling so they can better protect themselves and their partners. Learn more at Prevention – HPVinfo.ca
· Cervical screening: Consider screening women between the age of 21-69 including transgender people with a cervix. Callouts to patients who are overdue for screening and providing follow-up of abnormal screening results.
· Promote and spread awareness about the HPV vaccine: Early protection works best, but it’s never too late to be vaccinated, regardless of gender, or a previous HPV infection. Encourage all patients between the ages of 9-45 to vaccinate and help them find where they can receive the vaccine.
· Early detection: Increased awareness of the signs and symptoms of HPV cancers; asses any changes to the appearance of the genitals, mouth, throat, or anus. Consult with the physician for further testing if indicated.
· Physical and Psychological support: non-judgmental care for patients with an HPV infection or related complications. Coordinate specialized services for those needing further treatment.
For more information about HPV:
Cervical Screening Information - Screening For Life | Screening For Life -For Health Providers
Cervical - Screening For Life | Screening For Life -For patients
Bird, Y., Obidiya, O., Mahmood, R., Nwankwo, C., & Moraros, J. (2017). Human papillomavirus vaccination uptake in Canada: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 8(1), 71. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijpvm.ijpvm_49_17
GARDASIL®9 (Human Papillomavirus 9-valent Vaccine, Recombinant) | Official Site. (n.d.). Www.gardasil9.com. https://www.gardasil9.com
HPVinfo.ca. (n.d.). https://www.hpvinfo.ca/