No, seriously! It can! It’s not a needle full of water from the fountain of youth, and no we aren’t trying to sell you a miracle berry injection. We are talking about the vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV)—the leading cause of cervical cancer. Since January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, we want you to focus on just how virtually preventable cervical cancer is.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a disease where cells in the cervix, the lower, narrow end of the uterus, grow out of control.
What is HPV?
HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus and it is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. HPV is also asymptomatic, which means you won’t be able to tell if you have it. It is important to remember, however, that different types of HPV can cause different outcomes, and while the outcome isn’t always cervical cancer, it can be uncomfortable things like genital or skin warts! For most people, HPV goes away all by itself, but please don’t assume it will.
Exactly how common are HPV and its related health problems?
Here are some statistics from the CDC:
HPV (the virus): About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that almost every person who is sexually-active will get HPV at some time in their life if they don’t get the HPV vaccine.
Genital warts: Before HPV vaccines were introduced, roughly 340,000 to 360,000 women and men were affected by genital warts caused by HPV every year. *Also, about one in 100 sexually active adults in the U.S. has genital warts at any given time.
Cervical cancer: Every year, nearly 12,000 women living in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than 4,000 women die from cervical cancer—even with screening and treatment.
There are other conditions and cancers caused by HPV that occur in people living in the United States. Every year, approximately 19,400 women and 12,100 men are affected by cancers caused by HPV.
Does this mean I am at risk for cervical cancer?
If you are a sexually active female, yes. Things that will put you more at risk, however, are smoking, having HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) or another immunocompromising condition, using birth control pills for five or more years, having given birth to three or more children, and having several sexual partners.
Can men develop cancer from HPV as well?
Unfortunately, yes. While men cannot get cervical cancer, they are at risk for penile, anal, and oropharyngeal cancers.
Is cervical cancer asymptomatic like HPV?
Well early on, you may not notice anything, but in advanced stages things like abnormal bleeding or discharge from the vagina may occur. These symptoms don’t necessarily indicate cervical cancer, but there is only one way to find out… See your doctor!
How is cervical cancer treated?
Standard treatments can include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, but some individuals will combine or replace these therapies with a more natural or holistic approach. In such a situation, you and your doctor will discuss the best options for you depending on the type of cervical cancer and how far it has spread.
How do I prevent all of this?
Step One: Get your HPV vaccine! Remember, it’s not just for women. Men need the HPV vaccine as well. If you have questions about the vaccine or when you or your child need it, please give our clinic a call at (608) 233-9746.
Step Two: Get screened regularly! Ladies, I know they aren’t fun, but pap smears are the way to go to stay on top of your cervical health. Pap smears can include a quick swab for HPV as well that will determine whether or not the virus is present.
**Men: Currently, and unfortunately, there are no FDA approved HPV tests for you, so the other prevention methods are especially important!
Step Three: Stay safe! Research has shown that the proper use of prophylactics (especially condoms) have been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer. Mutually monogamous relationships and a limited number of sexual partners have also proven to lower this risk.
How can I help those afflicted?
As always, your monetary or personal time donation are helping win the war against cancer.
Donate to the American Cancer Society here.
Donate to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer here.
Donate to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition here.