While preparing for today’s show on HPV, I came across some shocking statistics. Perhaps most shocking of all was this: 75-80% of sexually active adults will have been infected with HPV before the age of 50.
These alarming numbers inspired me and my team to launch an awareness campaign. Tonight, at 5:30- 6:30 EST, join me in fighting the spread of HPV and cervical cancer by informing yourself. Along with Sharecare, I’ve assembled a panel of experts to help me host a live chat on HuffPost Live to talk about HPV and the best ways to test and protect yourself. I’ll be taking your questions – and giving you the answers that just may save your life. Submit your questions now.
Why is HPV potentially dangerous? Because it can cause different types of cancer, including that of the cervix, vagina, anus, and throat. In fact, HPV is now the leading cause of oral cancer – after smoking and sun exposure. We may think this is only a disease of the young; however, we are all at risk. Once exposed, any one of us can carry the virus for decades – and with the right genetic programing, the virus can activate an afflicted cell and cause cancer growth. So what should you do?
First, breathe. Keep in mind that of those infected with HPV, 50% of them will fortunately clear the virus within 8 months, 90% of them within 2 years. Furthermore, though there are over 100 strains of HPV, only 15 of them (16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, 68, 73, and 82) have been labeled as “high-risk” to cause cancer by the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP). Therefore, it’s more likely than not that if you have been infected sometime in the past, you either may have cleared the virus already or have acquired a non-cancerous strain.
Next, learn. Start with our slideshow of HPV infographics. Sharecare’s topic hub on HPV can also help answer many of your questions: How can you prevent getting HPV? How would I get treated for it? What vaccines are available for HPV? You can even quiz yourself to see how much you already know.
And finally, get checked by a doctor – especially if you’re a woman. Talk with her or him about risk factors for HPV and about getting regular Pap smears along with an HPV DNA test, which is recommended for women above the age of 30. The ASCCP recommends women over 30 to get a Pap smear and an HPV test every five years.
But don’t shy away, guys. It’s quite possible that you may have HPV, too. Fifty-three percent of heterosexual men have evidence of HPV infection – in their anogenital region. This is similar to the 57% of men who have sex with men with HPV. Plus, some new research actually shows that men may not actually clear the HPV virus at the same level that women generally do. In a 2010 study, men were found to be more likely to take longer to clear the HPV virus than women, which could place women at a high risk of contracting the disease from men who were just not able to clear the virus.
The HPV DNA test is relatively new and can be done during a Pap test with a gynecologist. It involves taking a small sample of cervical cells with a cotton swab or a small brush. In males, a similar test can be done that would involve using a small brush in the anal region; however, the FDA has not approved any specific HPV tests that can detect HPV in males with accuracy.
Even though 90% of people who get HPV will clear the virus within two years, 12,710 women will receive a diagnosis of cervical cancer by the end of 2012. In that same year, 4220 women will die. The odds of beating this cancer are much greater if caught early.
Since 99.7% of cervical cancers can be attributed to HPV, the importance of a simple HPV test from your gynecologist cannot be overstated.
And don’t forget to join us this evening for our live chat on HuffPost Live. What you learn could save your life.