Sexual activity requires caution, proactive care
Imagine you woke up one day, turned on the news and realized doctors had just released a vaccination against lung cancer. Chances are you would do anything in your power to make sure you got it. Unfortunately young women don’t look at the vaccination for human papillomavirus the same way
When I was in high school, the first vaccination against HPV was released. At the time, I knew next to nothing about the virus, and I certainly wasn’t going to go to the doctor and get extra shots when I wasn’t sexually active.
The government considered making the vaccination a requirement for young women, and I remember thinking that doing so would be an unfair invasion of my own free will.
I became sexually active three months before I turned 21. I had always thought that once I started having sex, I would always be smart and use protection; sadly, when I lost my virginity, I was not taking birth control or using a condom. So it really shouldn’t have been a surprise when my doctor called me a little more than one year later to inform me that I had tested positive for HPV.
HPV has become one of the more common sexually transmitted diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are “approximately 40 types of genital HPV,” and “some types can cause cervical cancer in women and can also cause other kinds of cancer in both men and women.”
This meant that I had contracted HPV from one of my previous sexual partners. I was horrified as I realized that I had to contact every man I had been involved with in any way to tell them that since I had tested positive for HPV, they might have the virus as well. But I quickly realized that the bigger problem was that no one knew very much about the virus and how dangerous it can be.
HPV is a sneaky virus in that a person can be carrying it and not know it. Unless a carrier develops some type of visible wart — only caused by a few of the 40 strains of HPV — there are no symptoms or signs that the virus is present. That is why it so important for men to be tested regularly for STDs and for women to see a gynecologist annually after becoming sexually active.
If I hadn’t done enough stupid things already, I waited for more than one year after becoming sexually active to see a gynecologist. According to the CDC, “it is important to get tested for cervical cancer because six out of 10 cervical cancers occur in women who have never received a pap test or have not been tested in the past five years.”
By the time I finally did see a doctor, my HPV had become moderate dysplasia.
For those who don’t know, “cervical dysplasia is a term used to describe the appearance of abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix,” according to HealthCommunities.com. “These changes in cervical tissue are classified as mild, moderate or severe. It is considered to be a precancerous condition and, left untreated, can progress to cervical cancer.”
So not only was I carrying a virus that I could inevitably spread to others, but I could also develop cancer.
At this point, I felt my life was coming to an end, and all I could keep thinking about was how much I wished I had taken the vaccine seriously in high school. I was facing surgery that wasn’t guaranteed to stop precancerous cells from growing back and progressing further into full-blown cancer.
The CDC recommends that “girls and young women ages 13 through 26 should get all three doses of an HPV vaccine.” Three little shots are all I might have needed, but instead I ended up requiring surgery in June to burn away the lining of my cervix to remove all precancerous tissue.
According to HelpPreventCervicalCancer.com, “cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in women in their 20s and 30s” in the U.S. The HPV vaccine should be a priority for all young women, regardless of whether they are sexually active.
Although I have already undergone surgery, there is no guarantee that precancerous cells will not grow back; I will forever carry the HPV virus. No STD should be taken lightly, especially one that could end your life.
Callie Thompson is a communication senior and may be reached at [email protected]