CDC Reports: Condoms Do Not Prevent HPV

By CWA Staff

Common sexually transmitted disease causes nearly all cervical cancer.

In a critically important report to Congress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Department of Health and Human Services recently released its findings that condoms do not protect against human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is the primary cause of nearly all cervical cancer.

Through an evaluation of research published in 46 peer-reviewed publications, the CDC determined "that there was no epidemiologic evidence that condom use reduced the risk of HPV infection." HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact, against which a condom provides minimal protection. It rarely produces symptoms.

The CDC reported: "The available scientific evidence is not sufficient to recommend condoms as a primary prevention strategy for the prevention of genital HPV infections."

In three of the publications, the report found evidence that condoms may reduce the risk of genital warts and cervical cancer, possibly because they may somewhat reduce the amount of the virus transmitted, decrease the likelihood of re-exposure or reduce exposure to chlamydia or genital herpes.

HPV has more than 100 types of identified strains, and only a few are associated with cervical cancers, but these include some of the most common types of the virus. HPV is incurable, but it appears to follow a cycle of remission and recurrence. HPV currently affects 20 million Americans and infects 5.5 million annually.

Over 4,000 women die of cervical cancer each year. Even among the carcinogenic strains of HPV, the incidence of cell abnormalities is relatively few. But because HPV infections are so widespread, some 13,000 women develop cervical cancer each year. Almost the same number of women die from cervical cancer as from HIV/AIDS.

The most consistent variable of HPV infection is the amount of sexual activity, mainly the number of partners.

A study of college students in Seattle found a five-fold increase in the risk of infection for those with a male sex partner who had at least one prior partner. Women whose male partners had an unknown number of prior sex partners had an eight-fold risk of contracting HPV. Those with only one lifetime sexual partner have a significantly reduced risk of contracting HPV.

The CDC says, "Because of the important role sexual contact plays in the transmission of HPV infections and because of limited evidence that other prevention approaches are highly effective, the most effective approach to preventing infection is abstaining from sexual activity."

Again, condoms fail at following through with the promise of STD prevention--proving that the only form of "safe sex" occurs in a faithful, monogamous relationship--what most people call "marriage."

Experts hope the CDC report will help inform women of the dangers of HPV, which is sometimes ignored by another federal agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"HPV is the single most deadly sexually transmitted disease for women in the United States," said Michael Schwartz, Concerned Women for America's vice president for government relations. "Four years ago President Clinton signed legislation requiring the FDA to develop accurate labeling on condom packages to inform women that condoms offer no protection against this disease.

"The failure of the FDA to comply with that law is one more indicator that government agencies still do not take women's health risks seriously."