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Herpes Virus Linked to Cervical Cancer

Appears to Be 'Accomplice' With Other Virus


"This study was done in countries that typically have very little in the way of formal Pap screening programs and management of minor abnormalities," says Schiffman. "It's an attempt by scientists to further determine how HPV uncommonly progresses to cervical cancer and to further clarify what is already one of the best understood cancers."

Although among the more common cancers affecting women, when detected early -- via a Pap smear -- cervical cancer has a nearly 100% cure rate. Since 1955, its death rate has decreased by 74%, primarily because of increased use of Pap screenings. Most women have been advised to have at least one screening a year; those who have gotten "abnormal" results may require two or three per year. The American Cancer Society is expected to announce new recommendations by month's end.

The herpes-2 virus is among several factors that work in conjunction with HPV in boosting cervical cancer risk. Previous studies indicate that using oral contraceptives for more than five years doubles the risk in those with HPV, while having more than seven births boosts risk four times. Other suspected co-factors include being sexually active in adolescence, smoking, and giving birth before age 20.

There is no cure for HSV-2, which also is spread through unprotected sexual contact and now infects an estimated one in five Americans older than age 12, according to the CDC. When active, it can trigger painful and highly infectious sores on the genitalia.

Another type of herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores on the mouth - HSV-1 - has not been implicated in the HPV-cervical cancer link, says Smith.

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