The lowdown on HPV


author: jennifer fullercontributor

Credit: Ella Mikkola

The next time you get down, you will know the low down on HPV.

Women’s health is a whirlwind of tests and false information. From mammograms, to PAP tests, to STI tests, women’s health feels like a constant barrage of test, stress and confusion. There is not enough information out there, especially about PAP tests. I never understood the purpose of PAP tests. In fact, I have been trying to avoid it as much as possible, but once I learned what HPV really is, I realized how important it is to keep up to date with your sexual health.

Run for the cure was Oct. 2, making us reflect on how cancer has affects everyone. It’s a terrible disease and it needs to be cured; fortunately, some cancers are actually preventable. Early screening has come a long way and it is very important to get screened. One of the easiest ways for all women to get screened for cervical cancer is by getting a PAP test. Like a first date, your PAP test will be awkward and uncomfortable. You might even overthink your choice of underwear; but, the awkwardness of the procedure is better then the consequence: being at a higher risk of getting cervical cancer. The purpose of a PAP test is to screen for HPV (or human papilloma viruses). HPV “causes changes in the cells in the cervix or lining of mouth or throat”(cancerresaerchuk); these cell changes increase the chance of becoming cancerous.

HPV is very common. Most people, especially young people, will experience it at some time in their lives, but will usually not show symptoms and will go away on its own. HPV is contracted through oral sex, or deep kissing (affecting the throat), or genital skin-to-skin contact during sex. Some types of HPV can show symptoms such as genital warts. Visible symptoms or not, either way, it is important to get tested. Even if you do test positive for HPV, that doesn’t mean that you will definitely get cervical cancer. Wearing a condom or using a dental dam can reduce your risk of getting HPV; however, HPV can be contracted just through any kind of genital skin contact. You can also receive the HPV vaccine to reduce the likelihood of contracting the virus.

Overcoming the discomfort of PAP tests is very important. In Saskatchewan, women are supposed to get tested after the “age of 21 or approximately 3 years after first intimate sexual activity”(saskcancer) after the first initial screening you have to be “screened every 2 years until 3 consecutive normal results”(saskcancer); on the other hand, these tests are 65-85% accurate, so it is recommended you get a PAP test annually. There are many different kinds of cancers and types of screening processes that go along with them, but if women follow these recommended screenings, then we can hopefully save as many women as possible from going through late stages of cervical cancer. Like anything related to sexual health, the more informed and open we are, the less awkward and stigmatized things will be. So, the next time you get down, you will know the low down on HPV.

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