When I was in my fight against cervical cancer a few years ago, information about HPV and cervical cancer was just becoming public knowledge. Needless to say, I did not receive a vaccine against HPV – it was not produced until I was an adult with several children of my own. It has interested me though what the actual link is between HPV and cervical cancer, and if it may have made a difference in my case if the vaccine had been available to me. My research has discovered the following:
What it is: HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) explains that it is a common virus that often has no serious consequences. It is the most frequently transmitted sexual disease (STD).
How it’s spread: HPV is spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Often an infected person shows no symptoms until years after contracting it, therefore unknowingly exposing additional partners.
Why it’s dangerous: When the body is unable to resist the virus, health problems can develop such as genital warts in men and women; cervical cancer in women; cancer of the throat, tongue, and tonsils in both men and women; and rarely but possible, anal cancer in men or women.
Diagnosis: There currently is no routine screening for HPV (perhaps screening will be standard by the time you read this) however it becomes obvious with the appearance of genital warts and can be identified in the diagnosis of cervical cancer in women.
How to lower your risk: As recommended to protect yourself from all STDs, limit number of sexual partners, participate in sexual activity only when in monogamous relationships, always practice safe sex (condom), and get vaccinated.
Recommendations for vaccination: The CDC advises it be given to all children, male and female, between 11 and 12 years of age, although an article by the Mayo Clinic suggests it can be given as early as age 9. It is important to be vaccinated before becoming sexually active. If the vaccine is not received as a child, it can be given and thought effective through the early 20s. Discuss potential allergic reactions with your doctor before administration.
The facts: Each year in the United States, approximately 360,000 new cases of genital warts will be contracted, over 10,000 women will develop cervical cancer, and almost 21,000 cases of cancer due to HPV could have been prevented by the vaccine.
Like all new vaccinations, parents wonder if the benefits out way possible risks. The HPV vaccine is the only shot known to actually prevent certain cancers. That makes it not only beneficial but imperative.
I’m not sure if the vaccine would have prevented my particular type of cervical cancer, but I would have welcomed the opportunity to find out.