A new hope for preventing anal cancer on the horizon

Parujee Akarasewi • Jun 3, 2024

(National Cancer Institute/UNSPLASH)

The Aids Committee of Ottawa (ACO) recently convened for an enlightening information session, uniting ACO staff, members of the HIV community, and healthcare professionals. At the end of May, this session aimed to illuminate the nuances of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and its ramifications, especially for individuals living with HIV.

Dr. Ann Burchell at the ACO (Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO).

Dr. Ann Burchell and Dr. Patrick O’Brien, distinguished experts in the field, delivered insightful lectures. Dr. Burchell focused on HPV and its significance, while Dr. O’Brien discussed a prevention project plan and how individuals could access kits delivered to their doorsteps.

HPV, a pervasive virus with over 100 known types, each identified by a numerical identifier such as HPV-6, HPV-11, HPV-16, and HPV-18, can affect various body parts, potentially leading to warts and more severe consequences like cervical, penile, and anal cancers.

It’s essential to note that HPV strains affecting the anal and genital areas differ from those impacting other body parts. While certain HPV types cause anogenital warts, they typically do not lead to cancer.

Throughout the session, participants explored the importance of preventive measures against HPV transmission. While condoms effectively reduce the risk of HPV transmission during sexual activity, they cannot eliminate it. Consistent and proper condom usage during vaginal, anal, and oral sex significantly diminishes the likelihood of acquiring or transmitting the virus.

It’s crucial to acknowledge that condoms only protect the areas they cover, leaving uncovered warts, such as those on the scrotum, susceptible to infection. Additionally, condom usage serves a critical role in preventing other sexually transmitted diseases and reducing the risk of unintended pregnancies.

The ACO session underscored additional preventive measures, including delaying sexual activity, limiting the number of sexual partners, and considering partners’ sexual history, especially if they have had multiple partners previously.

An essential highlight of the discussion was the significance of HPV vaccination for individuals living with HIV. Those with HIV face an elevated risk of developing HPV-associated cancers, such as cervical, anal, and oropharyngeal cancers. HPV-related lesions, like cervical dysplasia, may recur more frequently and progress rapidly in individuals with compromised immune systems, necessitating timely intervention and management.

Integrating HPV vaccination into routine healthcare for individuals with HIV is paramount. This approach aligns with holistic management and preventive medicine principles, aiming to optimize health outcomes and alleviate the burden of HPV-related diseases on the quality of life of those living with HIV.

Dr. Patrick O’Bryne speaks at the ACO (Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO).

While Dr. Burchell covered anal Cancer and how to prevent it, Dr. Patrick O’Brien offered the solution to the cause. He instructed the group on how to get a test kit and explained the importance of using them, 85 per cent of which prove to be accurate.

By understanding the importance of rpeventive measures and vaccination, healthcare providers and community members can collaborate to mitigate HPV-associated risks and enhance the overall wellbeing of individuals living with HIV. This project will be launched across Ontario within 2024.  

This informative session orchestrated by ACO is one of many they offer, with invaluable insights into HPV’s complexities and implications, particularly for individuals living with HIV.

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