This common STI can lead to cancer.
With much information about HIV or AIDs disseminated frequently, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be a scary term to many. But did you know that the Human Papillomavirus, also known as HPV, is the one most common STIs? In fact, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), most sexually active men and women will be infected at some point in their lives.
What is HPV?
HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that spreads through genital skin-to-skin contact. According to a study by Singapore General Hospital (SGH) in 2014, nine per cent of women in Singapore are infected with HPV and the infection is most common among those aged between 20 and 24. While HPV is generally harmless and will go away on its own, persistent infection can cause genital and skin warts or even cancer.
Risks of HPV
HPV does not always come with any symptoms. But this silent virus can potentially result in cervical cancer, the eighth most deadly cancer among women in Singapore. HPV is grouped into low-risk and high-risk types. Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by high-risk HPV. According to the National Cancer Institute, HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for over 70 per cent of cervical cancer. High-risk HPV may result in mutations in your cervical cells resulting in cancer. Despite this, a survey conducted on 386 unvaccinated female university students found that more than 47 per cent were unaware that getting a HPV vaccination could prevent cervical cancer.
These are the findings of four final-year undergraduates from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at NTU, and they have since embarked on a campaign Call The Shots to encourage female university students to take up an active role in preventing cervical cancer by getting HPV vaccination.
Here are common myths about HPV that you should stop believing:
HPV myths debunked
“Only those who are sexually active are at risk of HPV.”
You may be surprised to find out that you do not need to have sexual intercourse to be exposed to HPV. As it spreads through genital skin-to-skin contact, any intimate contact can put you at risk of HPV. Furthermore, the HPV vaccine works best when administered before sexual exposure, so even if you are not sexually active, it is a good idea to get vaccinated beforehand.
“I would know if I have HPV.”
People who are infected are often unaware as there are usually no signs or symptoms. However, the virus can lay dormant in your body for years before the symptoms start to show.
“HPV can be treated with medication.”
False. In fact, high-risk HPV strains may stay in your body and lead to cancer.
“The HPV vaccination is unsafe and has many side effects.”
Like any other type of medication, there is bound to be a risk of some side effects. However, most of these side effects are mild, like a sore arm from the shot.
The HPV vaccination is able to prevent specific types of HPV infections from turning cancerous. It is recommended for females aged 9 to 26, ideally before sexual exposure. According to Call The Shots, one of the key reasons why many women are not compelled to get vaccinated is because of the cost. While prices range between $300 to $800, that should not hold you back from getting vaccinated as women aged 26 and below are covered up to $400 per year by Medisave. Besides, you cannot put a price tag on health, can you? There are three kinds of vaccinations with varying levels of protection and you can get them at a polyclinic or GP clinic. Speak to your doctor to find out which one you should opt for.