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HPV-Related Health Problems Linked With Stress and Depression

A recent study has shown that stress and depression in adolescent females are linked to human papillomavirus (HPV)-related health problems—in particular, whether the viral infection persists long enough to increase the risk of cervical cancer.
Anna-Barbara Moscicki, MD, FAAP, from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, and colleagues presented the results of their study at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting, held April 30 to May 3, in Baltimore, Maryland.
“This is the first study to show that stress and maladaptive coping influence HPV acquisition and persistence, suggesting an association between stress and immune suppression,” the authors write.
Because it has long been known that psychosocial stressors can influence the body’s response to infections, Dr Moscicki and colleagues conducted a study to determine whether psychosocial stress, as well as adaptive and maladaptive coping mechanisms, affect the likelihood of a persistent HPV infection.
The study involved 333 girls and young women aged 12 to 21 years. Beginning in 2000, the researchers tested the participants for HPV every 6 months for more than 10 years. In the 11th year of the study, the women (mean age 27.8 years) completed questionnaires to help identify their levels of stress and depression, as well as the methods they used to cope with stress.
When the researchers examined the results of these questionnaires together with the HPV test results, they found that women who reported that they were depressed or under significant stress were more likely to experience persistent HPV infections. In addition, women who used self-destructive coping mechanisms—such as drinking, smoking, or taking drugs—during times of stress, were more likely to develop an active HPV infection in the first place.
Although HPV infection is a common sexually transmitted infection, it rarely leads to development of cervical cancer in women. However, it is the few infections that continue years beyond initial infection with high-risk HPV types that are at risk of leading to cervical cancer. According to the authors, this makes the results of this study particularly concerning because “many of these women acquired their persistent infection as adolescents.”
Dr. Parry graduated from the University of Liverpool, England in 1997 and is a board-certified veterinary pathologist. After 13 years working in academia, she founded Midwest Veterinary Pathology, LLC where she now works as a private consultant. She is passionate about veterinary education and serves on the Indiana Veterinary Medical Association’s Continuing Education Committee. She regularly writes continuing education articles for veterinary organizations and journals, and has also served on the American College of Veterinary Pathologists’ Examination Committee and Education Committee.
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