HPV: WHAT IS IT AND HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF?
By DR. SUSAN LEA-MAKENNY, INLIV DIRECTOR OF TOTAL HEALTH MANAGEMENT | CORPORATE HEALTH
What do cervical cancer, throat cancer, genital warts and cancer of the penis all have in common? A virus. In fact, it is a group of “wart” viruses that are Human Papilloma Viruses (HPV). It turns out that several strains of HPV are passed quite easily between sexual partners. Once they invade the cells of a person’s genitals or throat, many of these strains change the person’s cells into cancer cells.
For many years, the cause of cervical cancer was not known, but when the HPV was found at the same time, the link was made. Ultimately, researchers determined that the HPV was the cause of the cancerous changes.
Women are catching this virus from their male sexual partners, many of whom do not get any symptoms for many years. However, within three years of contact, a young woman could be showing signs of cervical cancer changes. For this reason, we are doing Pap tests for all our sexually active women at least every three years to detect and treat the early changes. However, prevention is still the very best policy.
HOW TO PREVENT THE SPREAD OF HPV:
Immunization! One vaccine (Gardasil®) is effective against the six worst offending viruses in this class, and its newly released form Gardasil 9 is active in preventing nine of these strains, resulting in greater coverage. Guarding against these HPV strains will prevent almost all genital warts and essentially all cervical and penile cancer, and the new emergence of throat and mouth cancers.
In Canada, many provinces are offering this vaccine free of charge to all girls in Grade 5, and now to the boys as well. In Alberta, any youth (male or female) age 18 and under can get the vaccine free from public health.
BESIDES OUR YOUTH, WHO ELSE SHOULD GET THE VACCINE?
What is important to know about the HPV vaccine is that because there are a number of strains, which cause cancer and warts, a woman or man with existing infection should still be immunized. The current vaccine is effective for ages 9 through 50, so uninfected people who are starting sexual relationships at almost any stage in life should be immunized.
We carry a supply of Gardasil at INLIV (at prices comparable to any pharmacy) and our nurse can arrange to administer the three shots in the series. We are very passionate about ensuring this important prevention of HPV, so please ask us if you need any additional information.