So if you ask any of my close friends I am notorious for TMI (to much information), that being said I am gonna throw the big red TMI flag out there now so if you continue reading, well you’ve been warned.
Alright, so today I am going to the lady doctor for my yearly. That’s right I am getting a pap smear today. Ladies dread this appointment but it is SO important. A pap smear is a test that samples cells from the cervix to check for abnormalities that may indicate cervical cancer. I am ashamed to admit that I am actually overdue for my pap. With everything that has happened in my family recently I have had to reschedule my appointment like three times. However today is the day.
As I have made it well known, my mother battled with, and eventually lost her life due to cervical cancer. According to cancer.gov “Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, and just two HPV types, 16 and 18, are responsible for about 70% of all cases”. However, HPV is not ONLY responsible for cervical cancer. It is also responsible for 95% of anal cancers, 70% of oropharyngeal cancers, 65% of vaginal cancers, 50% of vulvar cancers, and 35% of penile cancers.
HPV is scary, but many people don’t even know what it is. HPV stands for Human papillomaviruses, which are actually a group of more than 200 viruses. Out of the 200+ types only about a dozen of them have been identified as high-risk, and only two of these, HPV types 16 and 18, are identified as the main cancer causing culprits. HPV is transmitted sexually, but that is nothing to be ashamed of. Of course the more partners you have, the more likely you are to obtain the virus, but don’t think you are in the clear if you have only been with one partner. If your partner has been with even one other person before you then you can definitely be infected with HPV. To make it even worse the CDC estimates that 90% of Americans will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives, and around half of those infected are of the high-risk types. Most high-risk types occur without any symptoms at all, and in case it wasn’t scary enough there is NO test for it in men! So unless a man manifest physical symptoms of HPV, men can’t even know they have it. Which is why it is spread so easily. HPV never goes away and is not curable, however just like most viruses it can become dormant for many years.
There are vaccines that have been created to prevent contraction of the high-risk and cancer causing types of HPV. They are designed to prevent cancer, however there are some controversy that surround the vaccines. I highly suggest educating yourself about them, and considering it for you or your children. The vaccines can be given to both boys and girls, the series can begin from age 9, and is recommended for young women through age 26, and young men through age 21. Some people do not agree with the vaccines, so as I stated educate yourself, and make the best choice for your family.
The most important means of protection from the virus is obviously protected sex, but if you have ever been sexually active its also important to stay up to date on your paps ladies. Pap smears are virtually the only test for HPV and early detection makes all the difference. So I propose a call to action, education is key. Share this with your loved ones to educate them about the seriousness of HPV, how to detect it, and how to prevent it.
My mom caught hers fairly late. By the time she found out about her cancer the first time it was already stage 3, and by the second time stage 4. In part of my journey in moving forward in the wake of her death, I think the best way I can honor my mother, is by sharing this information with women, and by staying on top of my own health. What happened to her, doesn’t have to happen to us.