Did you know human papillomavirus (HPV) has been linked to several kinds of cancers besides cervical cancer?
The National Institutes of Health surveyed Americans in 2020 about their knowledge of HPV in relation to cancer development. The results revealed that less than 30% of Americans surveyed were aware that HPV could potentially cause oral cancer, penile cancer, and anal cancer.
HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections affecting sexually active adults in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that nearly every sexually active American will contract HPV at least once in their lives, whether they realize it or not. A person can contract HPV through any kind of sexual intercourse, such as oral sex, vaginal sex, and anal sex.
HPV infects millions of Americans yearly. Fortunately, around 90% of all HPV infections will clear up within two years. Most infected people never realize they have HPV because they never experience any symptoms, and their immune systems eradicate the virus before any severe health conditions arise. However, a small percentage of Americans cannot eliminate the virus in their bodies. As a result, the risk of cancer rises significantly.
The CDC has linked HPV to roughly 90% of anal cancer cases, 90% of cervical cancer cases, over 60% of penile cancer cases, 70% of vulvar cancer cases, and 70% of vaginal cancer cases. Furthermore, the CDC also found that many infected people were not aware HPV could cause these cancers to develop.
A 2014 study revealed that approximately 77.6% of those surveyed understood the connection between HPV and cervical cancer in women. Unfortunately, in a similar study in 2020, only 70.2% of those surveyed had this knowledge.
Why HPV Awareness is Important
People should be aware of the cancer risks associated with HPV so they can take action to prevent infection. There is currently an HPV vaccine available for those who have not been vaccinated yet.
Doctors recommend getting the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12 because it will help teens build the necessary antibodies before going through puberty and becoming sexually active adults. But for unvaccinated sexually active people 26 and older, the vaccine may have less effect because they have likely contracted HPV at some point already.
If you’re between 26 and 45, talk to your doctor about whether the HPV vaccine would be effective for you to take.
About the HPV Vaccine
Numerous research studies have found evidence of the HPV vaccine’s effectiveness in shielding the cervix from infection and cancer. In 2021, The Lancet published a UK study revealing that the HPV vaccine stopped the development of cervical precancerous cells for 17,325 people and cervical cancer for 450 people between 2006 and 2021.
For this reason, the medical community is adamant about young people getting vaccinated to protect themselves before entering their sexually active years. But, of course, doctors also recommend people practice safe sex and take extra precautions to protect themselves, such as wearing diaphragms or condoms while having sex. Also, sexually active people should undergo yearly physical examinations and screenings for HPV and cancer.