Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fighting the Stigma of HPV

Unfortunately HPV, like other sexually transmitted infections, carries with it a stigma. I believe that this stigma is misplaced from the start. HPV is actually transmitted by skin-to-skin contact and it just so happens that genital contact is indeed a form of skin-to-skin contact. However, unlike other STI's, HPV does not require intercourse for transmission. Ongoing research continues to show transmission via other methods with some even suggesting kissing as a potential means of transmission as well as foamites (inanimate objects). So should HPV really be classified as an STI?

Stigmas are not new and continue to inflict emotional pain upon those carrying the label. In the case of HPV, such stigmas can have devastating effects when they function to silence the person infected. The embarrassment may prevent them from speaking to anyone, including those who may be able to shed more light on the virus. In the worst case, it can prevent the individual from seeing their doctor, or by the time they do, it's too late.

The ones that come to mind most often are slut, tramp, hoe, hussy and a host of others all involving the woman's sexual history and number of sexual partners. Just like getting pregnant only takes one act of intercourse so too is true of acquiring the HPV virus.

Personally, I find it very insulting when I hear people on TV joking about STI's. It makes me angry because this person is so oblivious to the harm they are perpetrating. This doesn't have to be only on TV but those people just have such a vast audience to whom they can spread their ignorance. To them it's funny.

Then again there are those who know exactly what they are doing, their actions are intentional, a case of spreading the sentiment that whomever has the humanpapilloma virus got what they deserved. Obviously the underlying message is that those with HPV have done something wrong.

Until people are educated regarding the facts about HPV nothing will change. Education needs to emphasize that HPV is contracted via skin-to-skin contact and that most importantly, the cancers caused by the most common strains of HPV, are preventable. Perhaps if people understood that HPV is also responsible for cancers of the lung, head/neck, throat and other non-sexual organs, they would be open to a more meaningful discussion.

Take advantage of any opportunity to correct those with a misperception about HPV. Learn as much as you can yourself about HPV so you can correct those misperceptions. It is alarming the number of women who still have never heard of HPV. If you are reading this then you are ahead of many others.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Research Shows Gardasil Effective in Preventing Anal Intraepithelial Neoplasia (AIN)

Most people are familiar with the connection between HPV and cervical cancer. Merck Pharmaceuticals, makers of the Gardasil vaccine focus mainly on HPV as the causative agent in cervical cancer. However, what most people do not know is that it is also the causative agent for vaginal, vulvar and anal cancer.

Since it's approval by the FDA for use in protecting against CIN (cervial intraepithelial neoplasia) and potentially cervial cancer, the FDA has also approved Gardasil for protection against both VIN (vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia) and VaIN (vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia) and the potential cancers which result if left untreated.

There is a long standing connection between AIN (anal intraepithelial neoplasia) and anal cancer to HPV. In fact, HPV is considered to be responsible for 99% of anal cancers. Since the publication of this new research, hopefully the FDA will quickly approve the inclusion of AIN in the indications for the Gardasil vaccine. This research showed a 74% protection rate against the development of AIN lesions.

While an HPV connection was never mentioned, most people are aware that Farrah Fawcett died last June of anal cancer. In the subsequent documentary no public service announcement was made letting people know that this is a preventable cancer. Individuals with HPV and more specifically those with anal involvementfrom HPV were sorely disappointed that a PSA was omitted.

Doctors and other healthcare providers need to be more proactive in educating patients not only about HPV and cervial cancer, but about its connection to these other cancers as well. Unfortunately because of the lack of medical organizations such as the Society for Colon and Rectal Surgeons to educate their members on this connection, it fails to be conveyed to patients. This makes obtaining an anal pap for HPV (similar to the cervical pap) is almost impossible to obtain.

One of the ways that will bring about change is for patient's to continue to request the anal pap. Eventually, providers will realize the significance of offering this service. Professional organizations however must get on board and focus on educating their members. These are preventable cancers, and more needs to be done to bring this into awareness.