‘Desperate Housewives’ Star’s Cancer Highlights Dangers of HPV

Premier Health Now

“Desperate Housewives” star Marcia Cross is using her celebrity to remove the stigma of anal cancer and emphasize the importance of preventing human papillomavirus (HPV), a likely cause of her anal cancer and her husband’s throat cancer.

James Ouellette, DO, cancer surgeon with Premier Surgical Oncology, talked to Premier Health Now about the dangers of HPV and the importance of the HPV vaccine.

“Most people don’t know they have HPV. Typically, there are no symptoms,” Dr. Ouellette says. “A few subtypes are cancer-causing.”

HPV spreads through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus.

More than one in five adults in the U.S. has high-risk HPV, which can cause cancer of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women and penile cancer in men. It also causes genital warts, anal cancer, throat cancer, and oral cancer in both sexes.

“In most people it will not cause cancer,” Dr. Ouellette reassures, adding, “The problem is we have no idea who that is.”

Because HPV is spreading largely undetected, Dr. Ouellette notes, “This is a serious community health problem. We have two generations either who are infected for sure or who have a high likelihood. We’re approaching this to save the next generation.”

To protect the largest number of people before exposure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends two doses of the HPV vaccine for all boys and girls at age 11 to 12. If they are vaccinated from ages 15 to 26, they require three shots over six months. Last fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine Gardasil 9 for men and women ages 27 through 45 to extend cancer prevention.

Actress Cross has stated that she plans to have her 12-year-old twin girls vaccinated against HPV this year.

Dr. Ouellette fully endorses her decision, saying, “The only way to really battle these types of things is to institute preventive measures as early as possible. I have three children, and they’re all vaccinated.”