Sunday, October 18, 2009

HPV, Cancer and Friends

Stephanie Zvan who blogs at Almost Diamonds has cervical cancer. A recent Pap smear came back with abnormal results and follow-up work found the cancer. Stephanie has talked about her experience and given follow-up information about her prognosis. Pieces responding to Stephanie's situation are at ERV and PalMD that are both worth reading.

I'm going to use this as an opportunity to go over some very basic issues:

First, for many cancers, getting them caught early matters. This is the case for many cancers. If you are a woman make sure you get regular Pap smears. If you are a man make sure to get regular prostate exams. No matter who you are, if you are older, make sure to get a regular colonoscopy. Etc. Etc. These exams save lives. When cancer is found doesn't just impact what treatment options there are but can be the difference between life and death.

Second, get the HPV vaccine. Unfortunately, this vaccine is not yet available for men but is available for women. HPV is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer. HPV is also associated with penile cancer in males. Once one has a given strain of HPV, getting a vaccine later isn't going to help matters. Moreover, HPV transmission is not prevented by condom use. HPV is a nasty little bugger and is much more easily transmitted than most STDs.

Stephanie grew up before there was a vaccine. However, in another respect, she is lucky. Stephanie and her husband don't intend to have children. However, for others they aren't so lucky. If you are a woman, get vaccinated. Men, when the vaccine is finally approved for males, please get vaccinated. Not only will this protect you, it will prevent you from getting a nasty disease which could then be given to those you love.

Stay informed. Stay protected. Stay safe.

Edit: Apparently the vaccine has now been approved for males. Good timing.


Heal Spieler said...

Unfortunately, there seems to be only a few cancers for which screening tests have proven to be beneficial. These include colon cancer (via colonoscopy), cervical cancer (pap), and breast cancer (mammography). The potential harm outweighs the benefit of taking chest x-rays to screen people, even subsets of people like smokers, for lung cancer, which kills the greatest number of people. In terms of prostate cancer, not only can the primary screening test (PSA) be counter-productive, there is some evidence that even treatment itself for known non-metastatic prostate cancer does not increase longevity. Kind of a bummer, but the cervical cancer vaccine is, in my opinion, one of the greatest anti-cancer tools that we've had in a while.

Frayda said...

I thought only women had cervixes. Why would men want a vaccine for cervical cancer?

Joshua said...

Frayda, the vaccine is the vaccine for the HPV virus not for cervical cancer itself. The virus is a common sexually transmitted disease (by most measures the most common sexually transmitted disease). Most forms of HPV are more or less harmless. However, some strains of HPV can cause a variety of bad things including cervical cancer. Males should get the vaccine primarily so that they won't pass the virus on to unvaccinated or immune compromised females. (HPV also has some negatives for males but they are generally rarer and not as severe issues)

Escuerd said...

"If you are a man make sure to get regular prostrate exams."

Well, I guess that is roughly the position the exam requires you to take.

Joshua said...

Escuer, hah. Thanks for pointing out the typo. Fixed now.

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