While many students are aware that human papilloma virus (HPV) can lead to cervical cancer, it is a little known fact that HPV is the only cause of cervical cancer. The vaccine for HPV, also called gardasil, was released this summer and serves as the only preventative vaccine for a cancer today.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease on college campuses. It is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, meaning a condom will not always prevent its spread.
According to a study conducted at a Seattle college, 80 percent of students will get HPV before they graduate. Out of the 80 percent of students who get HPV, only 10 to 20 percent will show signs, and the rest will act as carriers who can pass it on without knowing.
There are over 100 subtypes of HPV. In the 10 to 20 percent of students who show signs, HPV can show up as either genital warts or as precancerous changes depending on the subtype. The vaccine protects against types six, 11, 16 and 18. Types six and 11 cause 90 percent of all genital warts, while types 16 and 18 cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers.
A student’s risk of contracting HPV depends on initiation of intercourse, number of partners, condom use, previous abnormal pap smears and a history of warts.
The vaccine is strongly recommended for all women and is now on the official schedule of vaccination shots for female patients beginning at age 12. It consists of three shots: an initial shot followed by a second after two months have passed, and a third shot after an additional four months have passed.
Gannett encourages all female students to come in for the vaccination. It costs $150 per dose and students can either walk in or set up an appointment.
Dr. Alexandra Hall, physician of general medicine and women’s health at Gannett, also encourages female students to set up annual gynecologist appointments. The annual exam includes a test for cervical cancer — known as a pap smear. The purpose of identifying precancerous lesions is to treat them early and prevent their later development into cervical cancer.
Last year, Gannett conducted 1,947 pap smears and 91 came back as abnormal, requiring further investigation with a colposcopy, a more detailed examination of the cervix.
Gannett also encourages students to make an appointment to discuss HPV and the vaccine. Nina Cummings, health educator and victim advocate at Gannett, ensures that the Gannett staff is understanding towards all students concerns, and students should feel comfortable to come in to talk: “You don’t always get this type of care and attention outside [Gannett].”
Hall agreed, “We’re a college health center. We are used to giving first-time exams to female students.”
The vaccine now serves as a way for women to protect themselves from cervical cancer. The vaccine will only prevent the cancer, and is not effective in curing an already present infection.
While the vaccine is not yet scheduled or recommended for males, the vaccine could prevent the appearance of genital warts and non-cervical cancers, such as cancer of the penis. However, HPV leading to non-cervical cancers for men is too rare for the vaccine to be recommended for males as of yet.
Hall and Cummings both confirmed the likely possibility that the HPV vaccine will be included in the list of recommended vaccinations for prospective students. If students have further questions, they are encouraged to review the Gannett website.