According to the Center for Disease Control at least 50% of sexually active men and women will have HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) at some point in their lives. There are over 40 strains of genital HPV, most of which the immune system will attack and destroy completely within two years with the carrier never knowing. As many as 15 strains carry serious side effects; the most serious being Cervical Cancer.
There is some variation in medical opinion as to how frequently women should get HPV/cancer screenings done but overall the opinion seems to be that women should start getting them no later than age 21 and continuing at least every 2-3 years depending on age and risk factor. Physicians may still advise a yearly pelvic exam, even if only doing full screenings every other year. While the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say every two years is sufficient, most OB/GYNs require full pap smear tests be done yearly before they will prescribe or renew birth control for a patient. Some women find pap smears and pelvic exams to be an uncomfortable experience and may feel this requirement is an intrusion, but the reality of cervical cancer makes this precaution completely sensible.
According to the CDC, nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. HPV can also be linked to other genital cancers as well as oral cancer. Approximately 22,600 people get an HPV related cancer each year; most of them are women. Some other risk factors of developing cervical cancer in women who already have HPV are: smoking, a weakened immune system, and using birth control pills for 5 or more years. Once cervical cancer is metastasized there is only an 18% chance of survival. The good news is that there is a drastic increase in your chances of survival if detected early; it shoots up to 90%. Pap smears detect HPV originated abnormal cells before cancer actually develops and provides the opportunity to have the abnormal cells removed before they cause a problem; making pap smears vitally important to maintaining women’s health.
If you are over the age of 21 and haven’t had a pap smear yet or haven’t had one in more than two years, please consider the fate of the 4,210 who will die this year because of cervical cancer. Make sure you aren’t one of them and make an appointment today.
Center for Disease Control, (2009). Genital hpv infection- fact sheet Atlanta, GA: Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/std/HPV/STDFact-HPV.htm