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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Vaccine may prevent cancer in sexually active

    You, Me, and HPV

    A new vaccine that has been 100 percent effective in clinical trials for preventing cervical cancer will hit pharmaceutical shelves in only a few weeks.

    But as the release date of HPVL1 looms, physicians and politicians alike continue to debate which age group the vaccine will target.

    Dr. Francisco Garcia, an associate professor and obstetrician gynecologist at University Medical Center, has been a key player in deciding the guidelines for the use of the vaccine.

    He said preadolescent girls – who are less likely to be sexually active – will have the most successful results because they have not been exposed to the virus.

    “”Ideally we want to give this vaccine to women before they are sexually active,”” Garcia said, explaining that you can be exposed to the virus the first time you have sex. “”If you’ve already been exposed to the virus it’s not going to do you any good.””

    Even though college-aged women are not the main targets for the vaccine, it may still be an option to help prevent HPV, depending their own sexual history.

    Are you at risk?

    More than 85 percent of sexually active people have been exposed to one or more forms of HPV, according to statistics provided by Garcia.

    Most of the time, the virus will clear up on its own, causing little to no problems to the reproductive organs of both males and females. Sometimes, however, the virus penetrates the cervix and can cause pre-cancer, or genital warts could appear on the genitalia of both males and females, depending on the strand of HPV, Garcia said.

    Nearly 100 types of HPV have been identified and 32 of them affect women’s reproductive organs. The HPVL1 vaccine will protect people from four strands of the virus: HPV 6, HPV 11, HPV 16 and HPV 18.

    HPV 6 and 11 cause genital warts to appear. HPV 16 and 18 are the most widely spread types of the virus and, if untreated, will cause cervical cancer, Garcia said.

    Ideally we want to give this vaccine to women before they are sexually active. If you’ve already been exposed to the virus it’s not going to do you any good.
    Dr. Franciso Garcia,
    Associate Professor

    All types of HPV are relatively easy to spread from one person to another. All it takes is skin-to-skin contact with the virus present on the skin – penetration is not necessary to spread the virus, so condoms may not be enough to protect you.

    Genital-to-genital contact, oral-to-genital contact and finger-to-genital contact could spread the virus from one person to another.

    So someone could “”technically”” be a virgin and still contract the virus, Garcia said.

    Women who are sexually active should get a pap smear once a year to check the cell growth of their cervix. An abnormal pap smear may mean HPV is present, but if it’s caught early it can be treated, said Lee Ann Hamilton, a health educator for Campus Health.

    Who should get vaccinated?

    National statistics show that by the age of 18 the average woman has had four sexual partners, Garcia said.

    Although the UA average is lower than national numbers, Hamilton said 65 percent of UA females and 67 percent of UA males are sexually active and may have been exposed to HPV.

    If you have already been exposed to the virus, the vaccine will not help, Garcia said.

    “”But if you’re a 26-year-old virgin, you’ll definitely benefit from the vaccine,”” he said.

    Many times males may be carriers of the virus without even realizing it. HPV 16 and 18 leave a man’s body within nine weeks of exposure, but the same strains of the virus take three to 18 months to show up in females.

    Because sexually active men may carry the virus without realizing it, researchers are not recommending the $360 vaccine for them. But if a man wishes to use the vaccine as a preventative measure, they need to consult their physician and he or she will decide if the vaccine is necessary, Garcia said.

    Sexually active women should also consult their gynecologist before being vaccinated, Hamilton said.

    Hamilton said Campus Health will not keep the vaccine on the shelves because of expiration dates, but they will order the vaccine for students who are interested in it.

    Hamilton said it is important for students to know their bodies and it’s also important to protect yourself and your partners.

    “”When in doubt, get checked out,”” she said.

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