Sex.. It can change your life. Your hormones are racing and your body is experiencing feelings like you have never experienced before. You think .. “It’s one time, I’ll be careful. Nothing will happen to me.” And then, some time later, maybe even years later, you hear the words you thought you would never hear, “You have cervical cancer.” You take a deep breath and for a moment, time stands still. You try to console yourself, but amidst the silence in the room, you begin to panic.
The human papillomavirus, or commonly known as HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection and the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. According to the Centers of Disease Control, or CDC, approximately 20 million Americans are infected with HPV. To put that into perspective, that is two and half times the population of New York City. It’s estimated that nearly six million more people will be infected this year.
The genital areas of both males and females can become infected through sexual contact, as well as the mouth and throat through oral sex. This virus does not just cause cervical cancer primarily, but there are over 40 types of HPV that can cause cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, and anus, as well as genital warts in males and females. HPV is so common now, that 50% of sexually active men and women will become infected at some point in their life. Sadly, most people that become infected don’t even know they have it.
The good news, there is a vaccine available that can protect males and females against some of the most common types of HPV, to include the type causing genital warts and cervical cancer. It is recommended and is most effective if given before a person’s first sexual experience, either intercourse or oral sex. The vaccine is given in a series of three shots and can be given as early as age 9 and as late as age 26. As with any vaccinations, there are risks of side effects, but the risk of causing serious injury and even death are very small. The HPV vaccine continues to be monitored by the CDC and Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for severe or unusual problems.
In addition to the vaccine, there are other ways to protect yourself. Abstinence is always the best form of protection. Refrain from having multiple sexual partners as it puts you at greater risk for unwanted pregnancy, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases. The vaccine does not provide protection from all sexually transmitted diseases. Condoms should always be used to increase your protection. Take pride in yourself and in your health. You are your only advocate..