A cure for HPV? Click bait or the real deal?

There has been a news story making its way around that a scientist in Mexico discovered a cure for HPV-16/18 and HPV related cervical cancer type 1.  I immediately wanted to know more and to see if the headline was simply click-bait or the real deal.  The method used is called photodynamic therapy (PDT)and the study shows 80% of patients cured who had HPV-16/18 only with NO cervical cancer and 83% of patients given the treatment were cured of their HPV-16/18 and its associated cervical cancer type 1.(1)  This therapy has been used for almost 100 years and is a safe and effective procedure to treat other health issues such as skin cancers, bladder cancers, cosmetic surgery, acne, ophthalmology, oral medicine, lung cancer and esophageal cancer.

At this point I’m thinking so far this doesn’t seem like click bait……

Turns out the methods used are not new.  What is new and seems to be the magic combination is specific drug dosing and amount of light strength applied to the area needed to achieve the “cure”.  The treatment consists of a drug classified as a photosensitizer, a light source, and oxygen combined into a procedure called Photodynamic Therapy (PDT).  None of these elements by themselves are toxic but their combination can trigger a reaction resulting in cancer cell death. 

The study by Eva Ramon Gallegos titled “Effectiveness of photodynamic therapy in elimination of HPV-16 and HPV-18 associated with CIN in Mexican women” shows 83% of patients with HPV-16/18 with cervical cancer type 1 and 80% of patients with HPV ONLY cleared infections after 6 months and remained so after the 12-month re-check.(1)  This is very exciting and promising news!  Unfortunately, less than half of patients with cervical cancer NOT related to HPV showed a response to treatment. 

The reported adverse effects during and after the photodynamic therapy were mild to moderate and usually well tolerated.  During the treatments they included: a burning and heat sensation, increase of vaginal discharge, half the women experienced pain and of those only 19% required a local anesthetic spray to complete the procedure.  After the treatment side effects were: pelvic pain for 3 days that did not require pain medication, a minor rash of the skin of the face was noticed by 10% of the patients which resolved on its own in under a week, most of the patients saw changes in appearance and duration of menstrual flow and there was reduced menstrual cramping.  Changes in discharge color and consistency occurred in half the cases. No patients reported developing a vaginal infection while 90% said their health had improved after Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)! (1)

This treatment will not prevent spread of HPV, but statistics are showing that the number of cases is going down due to the use of the HPV vaccine which has recently been approved for expanded coverage by some insurance companies and plans for people over 27 up to 45 years of age.  I want to make quick mention too that there are 3 types of HPV; one type tends to cause cervical cancer, one type causes genital warts(which are treatable), and a third type causes nothing we are currently aware of except inflammation-this type and so some of these do spontaneously go away on their own so treatment isn’t always necessary  but in the instance of cervical cancer it is worth looking into because of its infertility and gestation complications.

While HPV has been thought of as no big deal in terms of STI, and many times it is no big deal but certain strains of the virus can cause quality of life issues for some people who are infected whether by having genital warts (which is treatable), inflammation of the cervix and vagina(which causes a few different issues such as increased susceptibility to BV infections and HIV, sexual interest issues and lubrication and pain during sex) and cervical cancer complications.  While the story of this treatment was released as a cure in Mexico it still has a long way to go to be approved in the United States by the FDA as well as in Mexico, but progress is being made.  Please continue to see your doctor on a regular basis if you are sexually active and consider the vaccine and whether is it right for you.

Side note: I found interesting that this study also showed in cases where there was a confirmed case of BV along with the HPV infection, the BV was eliminated in 83% of those patients so while diverse studies have found that PDT besides being a promising therapy against HPV-16/18 and HPV cervical cancer type1, it also has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. The Mexican Scientist Eva Gallegos, commented “In view of the high prevalence of BV it may be of interest to determine whether there is an observable effect on the vaginal microbiota when premalignant lesions to the cervix are treated with photodynamic therapy.” 

That’s it! Sometimes I just write up a quick note to keep you all informed about what is happening in the world of vulvovaginal health that doesn’t make it into mainstream news and media as Knowledge is Power!

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

  Reference: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28380684

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