hpv-graphic1-fb-englishAre you at risk of contracting HPV and its associated cancer?

There is a common misconception that women having sex with women are not at risk for HPV or associated cancer.

This is a myth. In fact, lesbian, bisexual and queer (LBQ) women may have a greater risk of HPV-associated cancers compared to heterosexual women.

Fortunately, as of 2006, we have the ability to significantly reduce HPV-associated cancers through the HPV vaccine and adherence to screening protocols.

First the facts:

  1. HPV is everywhere. It is the most common sexually transmitted STI in the United States with 79 million cases and 14 million new ones each year. Without the vaccine most people will acquire HPV at some point in their lifetime (abnormal pap anyone?).
  2. Fortunately, up to 90% of infections clear without intervention, but the other 10% can lead to cancer over time.
  3. According to the CDC, over 30,000 new cases of HPV associated cancers occur each year (cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile and oropharyngeal), not to mention thousands of cases of genital warts. The majority of these cancers are in women.
  4. Screening (Pap Smears and HPV testing) works to prevent invasive cervical cancer. It is imperative that you continue to receive an annual check up and follow your providers’ recommendations for testing.
  5. Vaccinating works and is safe. The vaccine is recommended for girls and boys at age 11 and is available to women up to 26 years old and men up to 21 years old. Unfortunately, only 40% of girls and 22% of boys have received the recommended 3 doses of vaccine so it’s time to play catch up.

 

 

Both LBQ and heterosexual women contract HPV through genital-to-genital contact, touching the genitals of a partner and then one’s own, or sharing sex toys without proper cleaning.

Additionally, an LBQ woman may have also had heterosexual intercourse, which increases their risk for HPV. Even if they haven’t, there have been precancerous lesions found in women who have never had sexual activity with men.

You might think that because all women contract HPV the same way, that their risk for HPV and cervical cancer would be the same, but according to the National LGBT Cancer Network and American Cancer Society, the LBQ community may be at greater risk for HPV and cervical cancer compared to heterosexual women.

This trend may be attributed to the following:

  • Some evidence of health and lifestyle factors associated with poorer overall health
  • Fear of discrimination from doctors
  • Lack of provider’s knowledge that the LBQ community is in fact at risk for HPV and associated cancers
  • Lack of or misinformation around personal risk
  • Lower rates of health insurance (mostly due to plans that have not covered same-sex partners)
  • Less likely to have annual visits with a reproductive health specialist

It is within our power to decrease these barriers. Be educated on your own risk, schedule your annual exam and find a physician you are comfortable with.

Luckily our children will not have to worry about the risks of HPV-associated cancers. There is now a vaccine to protect them against high-risk strains of HPV that can lead to genital warts and cancer. It is very important that both boys and girls receive the vaccine series before they are sexually active and exposed to the virus. If they are 11 years old or older, please talk to your physician about how and when they can be vaccinated. Remember this is a vaccine against cancer, it is safe and it works.

We are all at risk, but luckily we have the power, responsibility and privilege to protect our partners, our children and ourselves from HPV-associated cancers.

Check out www.letsfcancer.com/notus for more information on how to say NOT US. NOT NOW. NOT EVER.

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