Saturday, March 15, 2008

Do You Know (Anything) About HPV?

--> Turning 30 involves more than just doubling up on the wrinkle cream.

By now you must have seen one of those pharmaceutical commercials about HPV, and have some murky idea that alot of young women have it and that mothers need to help their daughters prevent it. But it's all probably very vague and hasn't affected you all that much.

Would you be surprised to know that one of your friends, well out of her teenage years, probably has it? If not three of your friends?

Well, what the heck is HPV?

Let's get scientific: Genital HPV infection is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Human papillomavirus is the name of a group of viruses that includes more than 100 different strains or types. More than 30 of these viruses are sexually transmitted, and is particularly easy to catch because it's not only spread through sex but pure genital contact.

That's right, heavy petting. So, if you're in the backseat of the car at the drive-in but have not yet gone all the way, you too can experience the consequences of HPV in the form of genital warts or worse, cancer.

In reality, most women who become infected won't even know they have it and will clear the infection on their own. However, some of these women will advance to cervical cancer, because of this very lack of symptoms. And some serious myths about HPV itself are at work here, as per a survey conducted among 1,000 women age 20 and older between Dec. 20, 2007, and Jan. 6, 2008.

“One of the myths revealed was that women think they’re out of the woods if they've been in a long-term relationship. In fact, however, HPV can stay in the body for many years. It only takes one relationship for an infection to take hold,” says Susan Wysocki, NP, president and CEO of the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH) .

“Another myth revealed by the survey is that women don't think they need the HPV test if they've had normal Pap smears all their lives. However, the Pap isn’t foolproof. It’s still possible to suddenly discover you have invasive cancer despite a history of normal Paps. Getting the HPV test along with your Pap if you’re over 30 – when you are most at risk -- provides maximum peace of mind.”

While one way to prevent HPV, and STD's in general, is to be abstinent (holla President Bush!), this is not a realistic option for many red-blooded women. Luckily, the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, is available to help, although it must be accompanied by regular screening with a Pap Smear (in tandem with the HPV test).

Up to a point. The upsetting part is that right now, the vaccine is only covered by insurance for girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26. This ignores the fact that women older than 30 are most at risk of developing cervical cancer.

Additionally, these most-at-risk 30+ women are:

· Half as likely as their younger counterparts to recall speaking to their doctors or nurses about HPV and its link to cervical cancer. They also are less knowledgeable about the virus.

· Although 90 percent of women 30 and older considered themselves somewhat or very familiar with the preventive tests they need, 58 percent had not heard of the HPV test, and 86 percent did not recall their doctors or nurses ever talking to them about the test.

· Yet, the older a woman is, the more confident she is that her doctor or nurse is giving her all of the preventive tests she needs.

If you are over 26, you still can get the vaccine, it's just going to cost you big bucks (i.e. hundreds of dollars).

The upshot? The HPV test should be a lifelong habit. I'm going to sound like a commercial and say - talk to your doctor about whether you should get the vaccine (even if you need to pay it for yourself if you're not in the targeted age group). And please, be safe!


Anonymous said...

Great Post! Keep em comin

Anonymous said...

Really great and informative post

I know that my gyno does the HPV test on all patients over 30. It is possible that the docs are doing the test as their norm just not telling the patients that I am doing an HPV test with your pap. I only know because I asked.

Production Cels said...

I did a search for an old classmate and found a forum post she wrote about having HPV and genital warts...yuk! So I read up on it too!

Susan said...

Please be advised that all is not well with this vaccine.