Sexual Health news - Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Study identifies cervical cells targeted by HVP strains

The genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S. With over 100 different strains and 30 of which can infect the genital area and cause warts, this STI can affect men and women through just skin-to-skin contact. Specifically, strains 16 and 18 are the cause of 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases, according to the National Cancer Institute. Most HPV infections are asymptomatic, unrecognized and therefore undiagnosed.

Brigham and Women's Hospital collaborated with Harvard Medical School and other research organizations to study the cells on the cervix that can become infected with HPV. They found that there is a specific population of cells found only in the squamo-columnar junction region of the cervix that can become cancerous when infected.

"We have discovered a discrete population of cells that are located in a specific area of the cervix that could be responsible for most, if not all, of HPV-associated cervical cancers," said Christopher Crum, M.D., director, Women's and Perinatal Pathology at BWH and a senior author on the paper.

Findings allow physicians to better prevent cancer

Acknowledging the specific region can better help physicians evaluate which cells to biopsy to get the most accurate test results. There are no noticeable signs of early cervical cancer to the only way to detect it is through screening. The most common test for cervical cancer is the Pap test, or Pap smear. By collecting a sample of cells and cervical mucus, it looks for cells that are precancerous. This is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for all women beginning at the age of 21 or within three years of a woman's first sexual encounter.

The study, which is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also reported that the cells from the squamo-columnar junction do not regenerate once they have been removed.

Although there is no published research yet, the authors of the study indicate that the removal of these cells could potentially reduce the risk of cervical cancer if done before an infection occurs.