About those HPV ru­mours

Don’t get scared. Get in­formed!

Glamour (South Africa) - - Contents -

We clear a few things up

Cer­vi­cal can­cer has been mak­ing head­lines lately. A re­port ear­lier this year found that more peo­ple die of the disease than orig­i­nally thought. In ad­di­tion, this form of can­cer is dead­lier for cer­tain women, which led to a gen­eral freak-out, es­pe­cially since 90% of all cer­vi­cal can­cer cases are caused by the hu­man pa­pil­lo­mavirus (HPV), an STI 85% of sex­u­ally ac­tive women will con­tract in their life­time. Let’s clear a few things up then. HPV means you’ll de­velop can­cer

Visit on­line women’s health fo­rums and you’ll en­counter the fear that HPV is cer­tain doom for cer­vi­cal can­cer. But that’s not how it works. There are more than 120 types of HPV; many are ‘ low-risk’ and don’t cause any ad­verse ef­fects or need treat­ment.

Nearly all cases of cer­vi­cal can­cer come from two par­tic­u­lar strains, HPV16 and HPV18, which can also lead to can­cers of the throat, vulva, vagina and anus. If you test pos­i­tive for a high-risk strain, your doc­tor may take a wait-and-see ap­proach and sim­ply sug­gest more fre­quent Pap smears, be­cause your body may clear the in­fec­tion on its own. (This ap­proach is safe, since it can take be­tween five and 10 years for high-risk HPV to cause cer­vi­cal can­cer – it’s one ma­jor rea­son most doc­tors don’t even screen for HPV un­til age 30.) But if you test pos­i­tive and your Pap smear shows se­vere ab­nor­mal­i­ties, doc­tors can op­er­ate to re­move those cells and pre­vent can­cer from de­vel­op­ing, ex­plains

There are many sce­nar­ios where high-risk HPV doesn’t progress into cer­vi­cal can­cer.

Dr Shree Chan­chani, an ob-gyn and as­sis­tant clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor.

In other words, there are many sce­nar­ios where high-risk HPV doesn’t progress into cer­vi­cal can­cer, and your doc­tor can help you find the ap­proach that’s right for you.

Cer­vi­cal can­cer is be­com­ing more com­mon

Not true. There’s been talk of rates ris­ing and these prob­a­bly stem from a 2017 study which found that death rates were ac­tu­ally 47% higher for white women and 77% higher for black women than pre­vi­ously be­lieved. But that doesn’t mean can­cer is on the rise – this study ex­cluded women who’d had hys­terec­tomies and al­though they were in­cluded in ear­lier death rates de­spite the fact that they were not at risk. In other words, the study of­fers a more ac­cu­rate pic­ture of women dy­ing from the disease but that doesn’t mean the can­cer is more dan­ger­ous or wide­spread than pre­vi­ously. Which brings us to an­other ru­mour…

Cer­vi­cal can­cer is dead­lier for black women

Un­for­tu­nately, this is true, but not be­cause of bi­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences. The study showed that black women are nearly twice as likely to die from cer­vi­cal can­cer, but this is of­ten be­cause they are di­ag­nosed at later stages than white women. (Re­searchers sep­a­rated only white and black women, with one ‘other’ cat­e­gory for all other races, a short­com­ing the study au­thor ac­knowl­edged to GLAM­OUR.)

“This is why equal ac­cess to preven­tive health care, like Pap smears, is so im­por­tant, par­tic­u­larly for women who have the least ac­cess to care,” says Ce­cile Richards, pres­i­dent of a women’s health clinic. Bot­tom line: women of any race should get a Pap smear ev­ery three years (af­ter age 30, it can be ev­ery five years as long as your Pap smear in­cludes an HPV test).

You can get HPV from oral sex

Hpv-re­lated oral, nasal and neck can­cers are slightly up. Sadly, there’s no easy way to di­ag­nose this form of HPV. “Go for an­nual well­ness vis­its and don’t smoke, which is an ad­di­tional risk fac­tor for these can­cers,” says Dr Brian Slo­movitz, an ob-gyn who spe­cialises in gy­nae­co­logic can­cer.

You can’t get the vac­cine if you’re older than 26

This myth likely started be­cause most med­i­cal aids and in­sur­ers don’t cover the vac­cine for those over 26. But you can still ask for it, and you might want to. The Centre for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion rec­om­mends women and men get the vac­cine start­ing at age 11; it’s most ef­fec­tive when given be­fore HPV ex­po­sure, says Dr Slo­movitz. “The rea­son we sug­gest get­ting vac­ci­nated be­fore 26 is to al­low the body time to gen­er­ate an im­mune re­sponse,” he says.

But while the vac­cine may be less ef­fec­tive af­ter 26, it can still pro­tect you. Says Dr Slo­movitz, “If you’ve been in a long monog­a­mous re­la­tion­ship and now you’re not” – as in, you’ll have new part­ners – “it’s worth the cost.”

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