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Melody T. McCloud M.D.

HPV Linked to Heart Disease in Women, Oral Sex and Cancer in Men—Well, Shut Yo’ Mouth!

Cauliflower is good to eat, and good for you; HPV is not.

October needs to become HPV Awareness Month, because earlier this month, there were reports of the link between oral sex, HPV and throat cancer in men. Now there is a report of HPV linked to an increased risk of heart disease in women. Well, daggone; what are folks going to do?

Human Papillomavirus—the cauliflower look-alike better and easier known as HPV—can cause cervical cancer in women. Merck has created Gardasil, a vaccine which has been proven to prevent certain strains of HPV known to be causative in the development of cervical cancer. Since its approval by the FDA, millions of young girls have been vaccinated; but those who have been vaccinated only comprise 50 percent of suitable candidates. The goal is to vaccinate before the girl has sex and hence, before she's exposed to the specific HPV strains—6,11, 16,18—that lead to cervical cancer. In fact, both boys and girls can get the vaccine. On October 25th, the CDC prepares to formally announce the approval of the HPV vaccine use in boys/men.

Earlier this month a report in the Journal of Clinical Oncology reported the percentage of malignant throat tumors attributed to HPV totaled 72 percent of 271 cases. This was up from 16 percent, twenty years ago. [Yikes.]

On October 24th, the University of Texas at Galveston released a report that, of 2500 women subjects, HPV-infected women had a higher incidence of heart disease. Does this explain why, in the past years, there has been an uptick in the number of heart disease cases in women aged 35-44? Those women didn't have any of the usual risk factors we usually ascribe to heart disease: increased weight, obesity, diabetes, family history and the like.

What exactly does this mean? What's a woman, and man, to do...stop having sex? Well we all know that's not gonna happen. And after all, oral sex is an important part of the sexual armamentarium. It's even extolled in the Bible. Yes...it is.

As written in the ‘Sexual Healing, Reclaim the Feeling' section of Living Well: "In the Bible, the Song of Solomon 2:3 addresses oral sex. It reads: As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. Now...what does it sound like she's doing "down there" under her man's shadow...? And to what "fruit" of his is she referring?"

If the HPV-heart disease connection can be duplicated, the results might actually be good news, because it raises the possibility of the HPV vaccine not only decreasing the incidence of cervical cancer, but also its potential role in decreasing the incidence of heart disease--the number one killer of most Americans.

How does HPV cause heart disease? It's likely that the HPV causes inflammation that gets into the bloodstream; it attaches to blood vessels or heart tissue and causes damage to the cardiovascular system. This is similar to what we physicians believe about oral bacteria, and why it is so important to regularly floss your teeth. Flossing decreases heart disease by decreasing the amount of bacteria between your teeth, which reduces inflammation that can adversely affect the heart. Same M.O.

Sex is great, and most times, is good for you. But, remember ladies and gentlemen...there are risks. Maybe more than we know. Yikes. Oooo. Hmmm.

I admit I freaked out hundreds of teenagers in Jacksonville, FL last month when I showed them very graphic pictures of STD-infected genitals and mouths. I think I gave them pause for at least a little while.

About HPV and heart disease...what this means is that more studies are indicated to see if we see a linear decrease in heart disease as time progresses with continued use of the HPV vaccine.

About HPV and the risk of oral sex in men (and yes, women, too)...? Well...all I can say about that is...check 'it' out as best you can before you indulge. Bon Appetit. [And please...be careful.]

For more information about health, and sex—good sex, bad sex; the benefits of sex and the risks, check out Living Well, Despite Catchin' Hell. It's a book about health, sex and happiness, with a foreword by Pauletta Washington, musician and wife of Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington, and endorsed by psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere and others.

Copyright © 2011 Dr. Melody T. McCloud. All rights reserved. Any excerpts reproduced from this article should include a hyperlink to this--my original post on Psychology Today, with author credit. Feel free to post the link to this, and any of my PT posts, to your social network pages.

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Melody T. McCloud, M.D., is an obstetrician-gynecologist and the author of First Do No Harm: How to Heal Your Relationships Using the Wisdom of Professional Caregivers.