Written by Family Health Team
It is estimated that 75% of Canadians will have at least one Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in their lifetime.
HPV belongs to a group of over 100 viruses which can be passed easily from person to person through sexual contact. These infections are quite common and in some cases they do go away because the immune system gets rid of the virus. The importance of eating right and being physically active is heightened in knowing that a strong immune system can combat some HPV. However, even though our bodies provide some defense, certain types of sexually transmitted HPV do cause changes to the cells of the cervix which can lead to cervical cancer.
It is estimated that in Canada women 25 years and under have the highest rates of HPV infections. Also, 2% of sexually active young women have genital warts, and the prevalence for cancer-causing types of HPV in different groups of females ranges from 11% to 25%.
In 2006, Health Canada approved gardasil, the only cervical cancer vaccine that helps protect against 4 types of HPV. Two types cause 70% of cervical cancer cases, with the two other types causing 90% of genital warts cases. Gardasil, as prescribed for women ages 9-26 is targeting young girls before they become sexually active. Subsequent to the gardasil vaccine and a women’s first sexual contact, routine cervical screening in the form of a pap smear should be done. This is life after gardasil.
Dr. Oberai of the Wawa Family Health Team’s physicians group echoes that “the Gardasil vaccine while it is beneficial may not fully protect everyone. Gardasil will not protect against diseases caused by other HPV types or against diseases not caused by HPV.” She goes on to say that “an important part of prevention is continuous routine cervical screening by doing a pap smear.” It is known that cervical cancer may not cause any symptoms in its precancerous stage, so it is important for women to get a frequent pap smear. “Not having regular pap smears is a risk factor for cervical cancer; but this is a risk that can be prevented” -explained Dr. Oberai, who has seen the benefits of screening over the years.