Let’s talk about preventing cancer by having safe sex.

Why? Because no one else wants to, including your doctor.

In a New York Times article, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the C.D.C. talked about why, despite an immunization that prevents the disease, the vaccination statistics remain frustratingly low. Dr. Schuchat’s likely hypothesis?

“Adolescents [aren’t] getting the HPV vaccine because doctors [aren’t] recommending it strongly enough. In fact, one of the top reasons parents gave for not vaccinating was the lack of a recommendation from their healthcare providers. A likely reason: Doctors are uncomfortable talking about sex with 11-year-olds.”

In a way, it may be understandable why a doctor might be slightly uneasy about broaching the “sex talk” with young girls who may not have even had that conversation with their parents yet. It’s a little hard explaining what HPV, aka the Human Papillomavirus, is if your patient only has a vague idea what the term “sexual intercourse” means, much less how everything works.

Except this isn’t just about sex. The bigger elephant in the room that needs to be not just pointed at, but shouted out loud?

Getting vaccinated against HPV is about beating cancer. How can you beat cancer when there’s no guaranteed cure? Through prevention, early detection, and first and foremost, educating young people.

Which brings us back to the 11-year old girls, who, with a simple inoculation and an age-appropriate talk about safe sex, would then no longer be part of the 80% of women who by the age of 50, will be infected by a genital HPV. There’s a good chance that they won’t be at risk for various types of cancer, since high risk HPVs are responsible for 90% of anal and cervical cancers and 70% of vaginal and vulvar ones. There is also strong evidence of a link between ovarian cancer and HPV.

Plus, as much as we like to think our children remain children, they will grow up. And grown-ups have sex. And guess what? HPV will infect about 75% of those who have sex at some point in their lives. According to the National Cancer Institute’s page on HPV and Cancer:

“HPV infections are the most common sexually transmitted infections in the United States. In fact, more than half of sexually active people are infected with one or more HPV types at some point in their lives. Recent research indicates that, at any point in time, 42.5 percent of women have genital HPV infections, whereas less than 7 percent of adults have oral HPV infections.”

While the HPV vaccine is probably the best way to protect against the disease, to beat the odds even more, you’re going to want to use a condom. When used correctly and consistently, condoms are highly effective in preventing the transmissions of STDs, including HPV.

Not only that, but girls should also schedule regular visits with your OBGYN. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends that girls start seeing a gyno between the ages of 13 to 15. A simple checkup down there can go miles in catching various diseases early. Yes, this includes HPV, which when caught and treated is easily managed. Getting a yearly pap smear goes a long way when it comes to both prevention and detection.

Still, even with the information, medical know-how, and other preventative measures in place, right now, 20 million men and women in the continental United States alone have HPV. And since it’s often underreported and underdiagnosed, that’s actually a conservative figure.

That’s why this September, in honor of Ovarian and Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month, Sustain is talking about all things HPV.

Every week this month we’re going to educate, bring you facts about HPV, how to prevent it, and how to spread awareness.

You might think we’re hitting it hard when it comes to HPV. But, honestly? We don’t think there’s a limit when it comes to being safe about your body and living in a healthy, responsible manner.

So do yourself a favor. Get educated. Talk about sex. Talk about cancer. And always, always use a condom.

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