Tag Archives: sexual health

Cervical Cancer And HPV

Nearly every person who develops cervical cancer did so as a result of contracting one of around 15 types of human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted disease. There are actually more than 150 types of HPV, though most of them are not associated with cancer; a substantial portion of sexually active people have one form or another of the infection, but because most strains cause no symptoms, the exact percentage is hard to determine.

Both HPV and cervical cancer in its early stages are generally asymptomatic—the strains of HPV that cause genital warts are different from those that cause cancer. That is why it is important to be screened for HPV for someone who is sexually active regularly. A test called a Pap smear, after a shortening of the name of the doctor who developed it, Georgios Papanikolaou, is used to look for signs of cancer in the cervical canal, the exit and entrance of the uterus.

Cervical cancer strikes more than 10,000 women each year. It is very rare for someone to get it except as a result of HPV infection. While a high partner count makes transmission of the virus more likely, anyone who is sexually active can acquire HPV. Not every HPV infection, even with the high-risk strains, leads to cancer. Things like smoking and smoking, stress, poor overall health, and other sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia can make it more likely that cancer will develop.

Nonetheless, HPV prevention, quixotic a task as that is, can help reduce the incidence of cervical cancer. Many of the risk factors for HPV appear to be behaviors that are related to having more than one sexual partner—either resulting from decision, facilitating it, or simply the behaviors of someone likely to make it—and it is more likely that their contribution of these factors to getting HPV is mediated by that. Regardless, condom use provides a degree of protection, but it is imperfect because the virus can be transmitted by contact between areas of skin not covered.

The HPV vaccine is becoming more popular. It is available for children and teenagers—since HPV can be transmitted during a person’s first sexual encounter, it is recommended that people be vaccinated before they become sexually active, but the vaccine is effective through age 26 in women and 21 in men. The vaccine provides protection against the three HPV strains that cause more than three quarters of all cervical cancers, and experts say vaccination programs could cut cervical cancer deaths by as much as two-thirds.

The Importance Of The HPV Vaccine

Human papilloma virus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in adults, and it is ubiquitous. In fact, it is believed that nearly every sexually active person will eventually contract it. HPV is usually asymptomatic, and in most cases it goes away on its own without causing lasting harm. However, roughly a quarter of the more than 150 known types of the virus are associated with the various forms of warts—often on the foot as well as more intuitively obvious places—that give the virus its name, and four types significantly increase the risk of genital cancers, with an additional dozen or so raising the risk to a lesser degree. Two of those types are estimated to be responsible for 70 percent of cases of cervical cancer, and nearly all cases can be traced to some form or other of HPV.

The good news is, that makes genital cancers among the easiest types to prevent—and not just in principle. Vaccines for human papilloma virus may make it possible to reduce global cervical cancer deaths by two-thirds, and may allow genital cancers to be almost entirely wiped out in the space of only two or three generations. The vaccine is most effective when administered to someone who is not sexually active; independent of that, it is less effective in adults than in teenagers regardless of sexual activity, meaning it is not infrequently given when requested by parents on behalf of their children.

Although there have been a handful of well-publicized instances, this has met with very little resistance from parents—who are generally more than happy to have their children protected against a dangerous, often deadly disease at the cost of their own discomfort. However, in a recent survey, nearly half of parents report that their pediatrician had not even mentioned the HPV vaccine, and that they hadn’t realized this protection was available. This omission on the part of doctors may well have contributed to what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called an "unacceptably low" rate of HPV vaccination. Doctors appear to address HPV vaccination based on a perception of whether the child is likely to be sexually active soon. However, it is recommended that pre-teens and teenagers get vaccinated regardless of sexual activity, now or in the future.

A Simple Test To Head Off Cancer

Human papillomavirus is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer. There are more than 30 different varieties of HPV that are sexually transmitted, though they are similar in some ways. Most women with HPV—which is actually nearly ubiquitous among sexually active people—will never develop cervical cancer, but almost every case of cervical cancer is a result of infection with HPV.

In fact, most women with HPV will never show symptoms at all, especially if they have one of the types that can lead to cervical cancer. That is why it’s important for a woman to get regular tests for the presence of HPV once she is sexually active, especially if she has not been vaccinated. Vaccination protects against the types that cause most cases of cervical cancer—type 16 and type 18, together responsible for more than two-thirds of HPV-related cancers—bot not the other types, which cause warts or nothing at all.

The screening test was developed by a Greek-born doctor, Georgios Papanikolaou, in America in 1928; the name is typically shortened to "Pap test." It is ordinarily painless if done correctly. The Pap test is performed by collecting cells from the cervix, depositing them onto a microscope slide, and dyeing them so that the cells are visible. In modern labs, the slides are initially examined by a computer, which is programmed to detect abnormalities. If a slide seems to have indicators of HPV infection, it is looked at by a doctor. If the doctor confirms the indications, a specific test is then performed to look for the virus directly.

Pap smears are generally not recommended for people under 21, because testing below that age has not been found to lead to reductions in the cancer rate, or for people who have never been sexually active, because that is the only way the cancer-causing virus is transmitted. However, people under 25 who show signs of possible HPV infection should be screened. Vaccinations, which are available for both men and women and can be given to children before they become sexually active, provide a significant amount of protection, but regular testing is still needed.