Clinical and subclinical human papillomavirus (HPV) infections are the most common sexually transmitted infections in the world, and most sexually-active individuals are likely to be exposed to HPV infection during their lifetimes. More than 40 genotypes of HPV infect the epithelial lining of the anogenital tract and other mucosal areas of the body; of these, 13-18 types are considered to be high-oncogenic risk HPV types (HR-HPV). Persistent infection with HR-HPVs is now unequivocally established as a necessary cause of cervical cancer and is likely to be responsible for a substantial proportion of other anogenital neoplasms and upper aero-digestive tract cancers. Low oncogenic risk HPV types (LR-HPV) are also responsible for considerable morbidity as the cause of genital warts. Youth and certain sexual characteristics are key risk factors for HPV acquisition and persistence of HPV infection, but other mediating factors include smoking, oral contraceptive (OC) use, other STIs (e.g. chlamydia, herpes simplex virus), chronic inflammation, immunosuppressive conditions including HIV infection, parity, dietary factors, and polymorphisms in the human leukocyte antigen system. Not surprisingly, these factors are also established or candidate cofactors identified in epidemiologic studies of cervical cancer. HPV transmissibility and molecular events in HPV-induced carcinogenesis have been the focus of recent multidisciplinary epidemiologic studies. This shift in research focus coincides with a shift in cancer prevention techniques towards immunization with HPV vaccines and HPV testing of precancerous lesions.
This 2006 study clearly shows the correlation between irresponsible sexual behavior and infection. While it will be seen by some as reason enough to continue promoting the highly controversial HPV vaccine, due attention needs to be given the fact that HPV has over a hundred subtypes, and the most popular vaccines such as Gardasil and Cervarix only work against a handful of these. Health officials and RH promoters in the Philippines are copying recommendations made by US committees, without considering that Filipino culture is still very different from American culture, particularly with regards to sexual behavior. Parents have to make the decision to vaccinate at a time when their children are still at a formative stage. This decision hinges on important aspects of human sexual behavior — a subject that should by and large be left in the hands of responsible parents. It certainly will not be a one-size-fits-all solution. Whatever their decision is, it ultimately sends a powerful psychological message to their children, hence it is not something to be taken lightly, or without being completely informed.
For Catholics wishing to remain faithful to Church teaching, promotion of contraceptives AND the HPV vaccine at the same time is simply counterintuitive. Teaching our youth to master themselves and put off sexual activity until marriage would serve them best. Unfortunately, until we get these pharmaceutical and RH lobbyists off our children’s back they will only be told repeatedly that all one needs is “protection” in the form of pills and prophylactics. Our pro-RH legislators continue to encourage risky behavior, operating on the assumption that our youth cannot be taught self-control. What they need most is to be taught that they do have other options, and that chastity is the only real and effective inoculant against heartbreak, immorality, and disease.