The Human Pappiloma Virus (HPV) causes almost all cervical cancer cases. HPV is also linked to throat, anus, penis, vagina, and vulva cancer. A vaccine that prevents infection from the virus has been available for several years. Yet, an alarmingly few number of people are getting the vaccine. What’s going on?
HPV Does Not Discriminate
HPV is the #1 sexually transmitted disease in the US. In fact, most sexually active men and women WILL contract it at one point (or more) in their lives. In the majority of cases, your body will fight it off and it will go away on its own. That doesn’t sound too scary, right?
But check this out: Every year over 17,000 women and almost 10,000 men are affected by cancers—caused by HPV.
Anyone who has vaginal, anal, or oral sex is susceptible to getting HPV. It’s easily spread and most infected people have no idea they have it. And although condom use is strongly recommended to thwart STD’s, condoms do not completely protect you from getting HPV.
Signs and Symptoms
As mentioned, most people aren’t aware they’re infected because there are no immediate signs or symptoms. If your body cannot fight it off, it can take years before health problems arise. One such noticeable sign are genital warts.
Genital warts are bumps found on the penis or vagina. They can be large, small, raised, or flat. You will need treatment to remove them.
A PAP test can detect abnormalities to cervical cells. Sometimes, the infection is fought off, and the next test may be back to normal. But if it’s not, you will need treatment before the cells become cancerous. And if it’s gone undetected for years, you may already have cervical cancer.
Females who have the greatest risk of getting cervical cancer are those who:
-Do not get PAP tests or do not get them often enough
-Have HPV and it doesn’t go away
Doctors, nurses, and other health care experts would argue that one more group needs to be added to that list. That would be: Those who aren’t vaccinated against HPV; they too run a great risk.
Why Aren’t People Getting Vaccinated?
The CDC reports that only about one-third adolescent girls have completed the HPV vaccine 3-dose series. Dr. Deanna Kepka, a scientist at Huntsman Cancer Institute says that six in 10 boys aren’t even getting the first dose. (NOTE: In November 2016, the CDC altered it’s recommendation to getting two doses within a year instead of the original three given in six months.)
Some believe there’s still a stigma against getting vaccinated for a sexually transmitted disease. With only 51% of teens getting vaccinated each year, there’s got to be miscommunication or lack thereof.
Parents and health providers need to be educated and spread vaccine awareness. If parents are too uncomfortable broaching the subject of sex (and its potential dangers), then doctors need to step in and inform. If parents don’t believe their children are (or soon will be) sexually active, they may be naïve in their thinking. Better safe than sorry—even if it’s uncomfortable.
The HPV vaccine can be viewed as cancer prevention.
The American Cancer Society recommends females aged 21-29 get a PAP test every three years. For females 30-65, get a PAP every three and an HPV test every five years.
The CDC recommends the first dose of the HPV vaccine be given to girls and boys beginning at around age 11 or 12. The second dose should be administered within 6-12 months after. The vaccine is also recommended for gay and bisexual men, or men and women with compromised immune systems through age 26.
An RN who worked with cancer patients phrased it this way, “Cancer of the cervix, throat, and rectum often go undetected and are asymptomatic until sometimes it’s too late. Cancer patients’ treatments are not easy, not guaranteed, often disfiguring, and financially and emotionally crippling for the whole family.”
Prevention can be kinder and safer way to go.
As with all vaccines, you have a choice to make the best decision suited for your health values and beliefs for your family and community. Understanding more about HPV and the available vaccine may help you make a better-informed choice, one way or the other.