The Throat Cancer Foundation has published a series of myths about the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) on World Cancer Day.
The Foundation’s aim is to tackle misconceptions about HPV-related throat cancers, after winning a nationwide campaign to have boys vaccinated against HPV in 2018.
Extending the equitable vaccination programme allowed around 400,000 teenage boys a year to be protected.
The Throat Cancer Foundation is the only organisation to have provided nearly 12,000 information booklets to 300 cancer treatment centres for patients and medical professionals involved with the care of throat cancer patients throughout the UK on HPV and how medics should explain the virus to sufferers, loved ones and couples.
Eight out of ten people will get HPV at some point in their lives, but for most the body will naturally clear itself of the virus. The chances of developing a HPV related throat cancer in later years are very small.
Jamie Rae, Chief Executive of TCF, said: “Despite our relentless attempts to dispel the myths surrounding HPV, there is still a number of misconceptions surrounding the virus.
“There has been a large amount of media coverage in terms of busting the myths around HPV related cervical cancers of late, and we feel there should be the same level of awareness in relation to HPV-related throat cancer.”
While the virus can live in the body for many years, often remaining undetected, people often assume ‘infidelity’.
Peter Baker is Campaign Director for HPV Action, which partnered with the Throat Cancer Foundation to achieve gender-neutral vaccination for HPV.
Previously a health journalist, he has written extensively on the broader aspects of men’s health and is also currently Director of Global Action on Men’s Health.
He said: “There is this stigma attached to HPV because it is an STI and people don’t understand when they might have caught it, how they might have caught it and what it means for their own sexual history or their partner’s sexual history.
“There’s still a lot of confusion and misunderstanding around it. The professionals need some education about it as well as the patients.
“On World Cancer Day, we believe it’s important for people to get behind our latest campaign to tackle the misconceptions around HPV.”
Here are 10 myths about HPV that need to be eradicated
- HPV is the same thing as HIV – This is one of the most bizarre yet common myths about HPV.
- If you have HPV it means you will always get cancer – at some point in our lives, 8 out of 10 of us will get at least one type of HPV. In most cases the immune system will get rid of it.
- If you have one type of HPV related cancer, then you are at risk of developing another type – There is no evidence to suggest this.
- HPV can only be caught by having sexual intercourse – In actual fact, some scientists think HPV can be caught through deep kissing or other types of sexual contact.
- HPV can be caught by toilet seats or sharing cups – This causes a lot of confusion and anxiety for many people but this is a myth. This misconception comes from the fact that flu viruses can be caught in this way.
- If you have HPV, then you must have been ‘promiscuous’ – Many people who have long-term partners who discover they have a HPV-related cancer believe that their partner must have been unfaithful or previously had lots of sexual partners. This is not the case. HPV can be caught as a result on a single sexual contact and the virus can lie dormant for decades before it manifests itself as a HPV related throat cancer.
- HPV is curable – Some people believe that an injection cures you if you have HPV, however the vaccination works as a prevention measure.
- If you don’t have sex then you won’t get HPV – Some people who have never gone beyond kissing can have a HPV related throat cancer.
- If you wear a condom you won’t catch HPV – Wearing condoms will reduce your risk of getting the virus, but because HPV can live on the skin in and around the whole genital area, it won’t all be covered by a condom. HPV can therefore be transmitted through sexual contact of any kind including any touching or genital to genital contact, as well as oral, vaginal and anal sex.
- The vaccine isn’t safe – This is definitely not the case, says Peter Baker. According to the most credible health organisations, the vaccine is safe.