Herpes and Cancer

Every reasoning person who has reached adulthood will have feared the possibility of cancer, and it is probably not wrong to do so. A cancer is like a weed in a garden. It does little damage and can be easily uprooted when it pops up. However, it may interfere with the health of the other plants and be far more difficult to eradicate if it has been allowed to take hold and multiply. You do not want to fear something that may never develop, but by the same token you should not neglect the concept altogether.

Cancer is the result of a series of related biologic events. An abnormal cell is formed. The body’s immune system fails to destroy it, and the abnormality is passed on as the cell divides. As the cell divides once again, the abnormality is passed on to more cells in a geometric progression. If the factors that control reproduction no longer control the defective cell, the resulting mass can reproduce extensively and quickly. The end product is a cancerous tumor.

Cancer starts out as a cell with incorrect genetic information which is therefore unable to do its usual duty in the body. This is much the same way a cell taken over by a virus gets rooted, as we saw earlier. If these cells with incorrect genetic information reproduce extensively they can cause a tumor to grow. This tumor is, at first, nothing more than a mass of abnormal cells in a given location. Normally an abnormal cell will be engulfed and digested by the immune system, or the area of abnormality will be walled off by the immune system. If this does not happen and a tumor grows in size, it may eventually spread to other parts of the body, or may stay where it is but interfere with the functions of an organ somewhere in the body.

It has been suspected since early in this century that viruses cause cancer. Experiments with animals and cancer- causing viruses have been taking place almost as long. One of the most-studied viruses that is implicated in animal cancers is the herpes virus.

Perhaps the first physician to suggest a venereal connection to cervical cancer was Dr. H.N. Vineberg, a New York City gynecologist. In 1905, Dr. Vineberg diagnosed a cancerous tumor of the cervix. This surprised Dr. Vineberg because this particular patient was Jewish, and he seldom saw cervical cancer in Jewish women. Dr. Vineberg, with some investigation, determined that cancer of the cervix was 20 times less likely to occur in Jewish than non-Jewish women. He attributed his findings to genetic factors, religious dietary customs, and the Jewish tradition of abstaining from sex during the women’s menstrual periods.

Dr. Vineberg’s speculations perplexed the medical profession until 1936, when Dr. A.S. Handley observed a group of women in the Fiji Islands. He discovered that Moslem women in Fiji had fewer cases of cervical cancer than Hindu women. He ruled out genetics and diet and guessed that the practice of circumcision, shared by the Jews and Moslems alike, was responsible for reduced incidence of cervical cancer in these women.

The next thirty years saw a tremendous increase in studies on cervical cancer. Thousands of women from all walks of life were examined. By the late sixties, extensive comparative studies of nuns, prostitutes, and many cervical cancer victims gave considerable validity to the theory that cancer could be linked to sexual activity. Prostitutes seemed to run a greater risk of developing cervical cancer than nuns. Indeed, women whose sexual activity started at a relatively early age or who had multiple sexual partners developed cancer more often than women who did not. Nuns, on the other hand, exhibited a low incidence of cervical cancer, as did women who started sexual activity later in life and had only one sex partner. This caused researchers to begin looking for something to explain these differences, because circumcision did not explain this new data. The facts on herpes virus are staggering. Each year, 1 million new of herpes are recorded worldwide with half a million new cases in the United States alone.

As more test results were analyzed, it became increasingly clear that sexual activity was somehow linked with cervical cancer. The researchers did not believe that sexual intercourse was responsible, but believed that some factor linked to sexual intercourse was the responsible entity.

Dr. Irving Kessler, chairman of the department of epidemiology at the medical school of the University of Maryland, has worked for several years to determine the venereal factor in cervical cancer. Dr. Kessler has tested several thousand women, and his studies lead him to believe that some men can pass the risk of cervical cancer on to certain susceptible women. He found that women who have been married in the past or are married now to widowers or divorcees whose former wives had cervical cancer have a three to four times greater chance of developing cervical cancer themselves.

Researchers began to suspect that there was an infectious agent responsible because of the apparent link with sexual transmission. The disease-causing organisms of syphilis and gonorrhea were examined but no connection could be made. Investigators turned to what was then an up-and-coming STD, genital herpes. When attempts were made to connect the HSV to cervical cancer, there appeared to be a positive correlation.

In the late sixties, Dr. Andre J. Nahmias of the Emory University School of Medicine discovered genital herpes to be more common in women with cervical cancer than in those without. Dr. Laure Aurelian of Johns Hopkins University found an antibody to HSV-2 in the blood of 79% of the subjects with cervical cancer. Other tests of the same type conducted around the U.S. provided the same results. Genital herpes was discovered to be several times more prevalent in content cancer patients than in women without the condition.

Despite these discoveries, an important clue in the herpes-cancer puzzle was still missing: It was not proven that HSV could alter cells in the cervix. In one experiment, female monkeys repeatedly injected with HSV-2 in the cervix showed no malignant changes. Then in 1971, Dr. Fred Rapp of the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine in Hershey showed that HSV could alter the growth patterns of rodent cells raised in test tubes. The early work was an indication that the virus responsible for cold sores as well as genital herpes might play a role in cancer.

In the last four years, new genetic engineering techniques have made it possible to produce small pieces of the virus in large quantities. Several groups have shown that three of those fragments are capable by themselves of altering growth patterns of rodent cells in test-tube experiments. Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle have recently found fragments of herpes virus in the tumors of cervical cancer patients.

McDougal1,etal., at the Seattle Center, reported finding evidence of functioning herpes virus fragments in 30% of cervical cancer tumors. As a result, McDougall says he believes genital herpes infections may be causative in these cases. Another test at Baylor University in Houston has shown that as many as 42% of cervical cancer tumors contain proteins produced by the herpes virus.

What does all this mean? This means that there is a significant association between genital herpes and cancer of the cervix. Cancers, however, are caused by many interacting factors. Cancer is thought to be a multi-step process requiring a combination of events over time before it becomes apparent. Epstein-Barr virus is a good example of this. Epstein-Barr virus, as you might recall, causes infectious mononucleosis and is common the world over. In only a few areas, parts of China and Africa, does the virus appear to play a role in the development of cancers of the nose and throat, which are rare in the United States. Why isn’t the cancer more widespread? Many factors are believed to explain the difference and researchers are trying to determine just what those factors are.

Until the problem is understood in full, it is best to be secure in knowing that having genital herpes does not mean that you will develop cervical cancer. There is enough evidence that you’re a better candidate for the cancer than someone without genital herpes. By most figures, women with genital herpes are eight times more likely to develop cervical cancer than women without the disease. This is why some physicians recommend having a Pap test done every six months instead of once a year. This is a painless, inexpensive bit of insurance, and I recommend it for any woman with genital herpes or a sexual partner with genital herpes.


Cancer of the cervix is normally curable if found early. The reason for this is early cancer will be confined to the surface cells of the cervix. Cervical cancer does not metastasize early. This means that the cancer does not send parts of the original abnormal growth to other parts of the body. Cervical cancer, therefore, is not a particularly fast-growing cancer. Any cancer undetected will progress and attack the cells under the surface area or deeper in the tissues. If still undetected, it will spread to the lymph nodes. Each step it takes away from the surface cells means the chance of easy cure is diminished. The easiest and best test for catching cancer in its early stages is with the Papanicolaou’s stain test or Pap smear.

The doctor responsible for this valuable contribution to the medical world discovered a special stain that, when used with certain tissue on a microscope slide, would highlight certain cells. These cells would be highlighted by the stain before they became dangerously malignant (cancerous). If cells can be found before they become malignant the abnormal growth can be removed with fair certainty of getting the whole growth. There would be less chance of deep involvement or metastasis.

The test itself is easy to perform and painless. Patient! should present to the physician’s office without having douched or used vaginal medication during the 24 hours before the test. Some cervical cells are removed by cotton- tipped applicator and small spatula. When the cotton tipped applicator is wiped across the cervix, it removes some of the cells. To dispel any misconceptions, let me say that nothing is snipped off. There is no need for anything to grow back after the test. These applicators are rolled on a microscope slide, thereby transferring the cells to the surface of the slide. The slide is then fixed with a preservative and stained with Dr. Papanicolaou’s special stain.

A skilled laboratory technician examines the slide. If any abnormal cells should appear, the slide will then be examined by a pathologist. A pathologist is expert in diagnosing diseased tissues. After the slide has undergone these studies, the results are sent to your attending physician.

Since cervical cancer is asymptomatic in early stages, the Pap test plays a very important role. It can detect about 90% of early cervical cancer and its widespread use has reduced deaths from this disease by more than 50%. Cervical cancer could probably be eliminated as a cause of death if all women had a yearly Pap test. Unfortunately, fewer than 40% of women do so.

Pap test results can be categorized into four groups: On Class I, there are no abnormal cells. On Class II, there are atypical cells. These atypical or abnormal cells are not necessarily caused by cancerous changes. Causes include inflammation, or infection such as herpes, yeast, or trichomoniasis. The changes caused by these infections can be treated and this may remedy the agent causing this classification. The cells that are slightly abnormal (in the absence of other infection) may disappear on their own. This is why semi-annual tests are more desirable. Class II changes are common and not cause for anxiety. On Class III, there are cells considered suspicious of malignancy. In most Class III cases, a tissue biopsy is called for. On Class IV, cancerous cells are present. In the later classes the physician may want to investigate the lesion with a colposcopy. This is a special binocular- type instrument which allows direct observation of the tissues of the vagina and cervix with magnification. The application of special stains helps to differentiate normal tissue from abnormal. After observation the physician may decide to do one«of several different kinds of biopsy. If a biopsy is done, a Pap test will probably be necessary every three months to ensure that all of the lesion has been removed and that it does not recur.

I hope the key here is obvious. The key is prevention and it is spelled Pap smear. If the cervix has cells that are in the process of undergoing a change, you want to catch them early. Early discovery makes for easy and successful treatment. Have the test done once each year, twice if you or your partner have genital herpes. Learn about top rated herpes treatments.

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