Mexican researchers had a major breakthrough in treating HPV (Human Papillomavirus), the most common sexually transmitted disease. In fact, the CDC states that almost 80 million Americans are infected with HPV with approximately 14 million people becoming newly infected per year. Those are just the numbers in the U.S. alone.
What exactly is HPV?
HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses, named for the warts (papillomas) some HPV types can cause. Some other HPV types can lead to cancer. According to the CDC website:
“In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer.
Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. A healthcare provider can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area.
HPV can cause cervical and other cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer). Cancer often takes years, even decades, to develop after a person gets HPV. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types of HPV that can cause cancers.”
According to, El Universal, a popular Mexican newsite, a research team at Mexico’s National Polytechnic Institute led by Eva Ramon Gallegos, was able to eliminate HPV in dozens of patients using a non-invasive photodynamic therapy. Which makes us all ask, what is photodynamic therapy? Well, according to cancer.gov:
“Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a treatment that uses a drug, called a photosensitizer or photosensitizing agent, and a particular type of light. When photosensitizers are exposed to a specific wavelength of light, they produce a form of oxygen that kills nearby cells.”
Sounds like science fiction to me but whatever works! Anyway, according to Ramon’s study, the team was able to eliminate HPV in 100 percent of patients that had no premalignant lesions and in 64.3 percent of subjects with lesions.
Now, I know that viral headlines all across the internet screamed the HPV has been cured but, um - not so fast. There are over 100 different kinds of HPV. Some cause health problems, some do not. Some, but not many, cause cancer. One of the reasons cancer is so hard to cure is because each type of cancer will require a completely different cure. Something that cures cervical cancer, for example, will probably not cure breast cancer. And something that cures type 6,11,16 and 18 (most of the problematic HPV types) types of HPV might not work on other types of HPV.
As pointed out by Liz Highleyman, the editor in chief at www.cancerhealth.com in her A Cure for HPV, not so fast…, there are too many forms of HPV to claim they have all been cured. Highleyman notes the Mexican research only focused on two types of HPV. So, while the research is good news, it’s not exactly a full cure. From her article:
“It’s not clear how photodynamic treatment might eliminate HPV infection, which would seem to require some type of antiviral therapy. But there’s clearly something going on.
Despite the unanswered questions raised by the recent reports, the findings from the Mexican study are good news for people with HPV-associated dysplasia. Photodynamic therapy is well tolerated and noninvasive. Using PDT instead of surgery to remove precancerous tissue could help preserve function in people with anal lesions and the ability to carry a pregnancy in women with cervical lesions.
The news also presents an opportunity to promote HPV vaccination. The new Gardasil 9 vaccine protects against several of the most common cancer-causing HPV types (16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58) and two wart-causing types (6 and 11). It is recommended for girls and boys around age 11 or 12, before they become sexually active. However, the FDA recently approved the vaccine for women and men up to age 45, meaning people who were not vaccinated as teens or young adults may still be able to benefit.”
Okay. So perhaps “cures HPV” is too strong a statement. But things seem to be heading in the right direction!
Antibiotic resistant strains of the sexually transmitted illness, Neisseria gonorrhea, have been on the rise, and the World Health Organization cites oral sex as a culprit.
“Super-Gonorrhea” is a term used for a gonorrhea infection that cannot be treated by conventional antibiotic therapy. Drug resistant strains cause infections that cannot be cured, hence increasing its risk of morbidity and spread to other individuals who think their partner is “cured.”
Gonorrhea infection may present with green/yellow discharge emanating from the penile urethra or female vagina or it may be asymptomatic. Additionally the bacteria could colonize or infect the rectum, mouth, or disseminate throughout the body, causing arthritis, rash and multiple other maladies. Untreated gonorrhea can also lead to infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and increase one’s risk of acquiring HIV.
Oral sex allows an easy route of transmission if condoms aren’t used. According to Dr. Teodora Wi, WHO Medical Officer, “When you use antibiotics to treat infections like a normal sore throat, this mixes with the Neisseria species in your throat and this results in resistance.”
Let me explain. Superbugs develop when a bacteria survives an antibiotic treatment that should have killed it. The surviving bacteria, with its “super genes,” makes offspring that has the same “super genes” capable of withstanding the same antibiotic that didn’t kill its parent. The more exposure a bacteria has to antibiotics that it can withstand, the greater the possibility of it developing antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics used to kill throat infections are not always designed to kill off gonorrhea, hence any gonorrhea sitting in the throat after oral sex can produce resistant progeny.
Until recently, gonorrhea would be treated with a single dose of ceftriaxone, ciprofloxacin, or azithromycin. Due to a rise in resistance to these individual medications, the current treatment for gonorrhea infection recommended by the CDC is a single dose of 250 mg of intramuscular ceftriaxone AND 1g of oral azithromycin.
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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a Board Certified Family Physician. The Dr. Daliah Show , is nationally syndicated M-F from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm and Saturday from Noon-1:00 pm (all central times) at GCN.