Monday, February 9, 2009

Cervical cancer awareness should go beyond January

The month of January is cervical-cancer month. It is estimated that every year at least 11,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Cervical cancer differs, however, from other types of cancer in that it is almost 100 percent preventable with the use of condoms and a vaccine called Gardasil.

Cervical cancer is caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus, which is the most common sexually transmitted disease today. In fact, some gynecologists have started calling it the "common cold of the vagina." This statement, though, is misleading, because women are not the only ones affected by HPV - men are as well.

There are 40 strains of HPV that are sexually transmitted; some strains cause genital warts, and others cause cervical cancer. HPV presents a unique challenge because the majority of people never even know that they have it, which is why the virus is so easily passed between partners. The virus is usually cleared by the person's own immune system within the first two years of infection. Only when the virus doesn't clear does it cause problems, such as warts and cervical cancer. Again, this information seems as though it is only geared toward women, but research shows that men are also affected by HPV and its serious side effects, such as penile cancer.

Other cancers that have been linked to HPV are cancers of the anus, vulva, and vagina. One HPV-related cancer that has been receiving a lot of attention in the news is oropharyngeal cancer, which occurs in the middle part of the throat and includes the soft palate, part of the tongue, and the tonsils. Some people may be wondering how HPV can cause cancer in the throat and the answer is unprotected oral sex.

After seeing what exactly the HPV virus can do, it is extremely important to take note of ways to protect yourself from infection. First, use a condom each and every time you choose to have sex. Although HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom, research shows that condom use greatly reduces the transmission of HPV. Remember to share the responsibility of using a condom. HPV can infect both men and women.

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