HPV fears

Jamaica Observer

GYNO ISSUES

By NADINE WILSON All Woman writer
Monday, March 28, 2011

THE Human Pillomavirus (HPV) is being touted by some as the “new silent Killer for women”, but local gynaecologist Dr Michael Abrahams believes this description of the virus is misleading given the fact that only a few of the more than 130 types of HPV have led to cervical cancer.

“I really don’t like that term because it induces anxiety where it is not really needed,” said the doctor who has been treating women for over 14 years. Even so, he cautions that “people should take it seriously.”

HPV infects the skin, especially around the genitalia of both males and females. Some of the main and perhaps only symptoms of the disease are cauliflower-like warts which usually appear around the genitals. HPV is widely linked to cervical cancer, however, it can also cause cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, mouth and throat.

There are over 130 strains of HPV, but Dr Abrahams pointed out that less that 10 of them have been proven to cause cervical cancer.

“The types that cause the warts are not necessarily the same types that cause the abnormality in the cervix,or cancer,” he said.

The only foolproof way of diagnosing a woman with HPV, therefore, is to carry out a pap smear. Pap smears are recommended for women 18 years or older or at the age when they first become sexually active, whichever comes first.

“You won’t know [you have HPV] unless a pap smear picks it up. Cancer of the cervix is very sluggish, it takes an average of about 11 years [to change] from an abnormal cervix to cancerous cervix on average,” Dr Abrahams explained.

Once an abnormality of the cervix is identified through pap smear, it can be treated before it reaches the stage of cancer.

Most people who have genital HPV don’t know they have it because there are often no symptoms, and it goes away on its own without causing any serious health problems. It is estimated that that more than 75 per cent of women and men will have this type of infection at one point of their lives.

The virus usually affects young women and men who are in their late teens and early 20s. While the risk of transmission of HPV is greatest without a condom, the virus can be transferred from one person to the next without actual physical penetration. It can be transmitted through vaginal or anal intercourse, oral sex and mutual masturbation because HPV is also found on parts of the body such as the vulva, scrotum and inner thighs.

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