Cognitive Mileage

Cervical Cancer

Posted on: October 6, 2007

So you go to the doctor to get a pap smear and a couple days later you get that fear-inducing call: you have abnormal cells on your cervix. You don’t know what that means but you are afraid it has something to do with cervical cancer.

The bad news: it probably is related to cervical cancer. The good news: if you are under 35, you probably don’t have cervical cancer.

The Reality of HPV

So here’s what they never told you in sex ed: the vast majority of sexually active adults (meaning: pretty much everybody) get human papillomavirus (HPV) sometime in their lifetime and continue to carry it for the rest of their lives. Unless you are a virgin that has only been with another virgin, chances are high that you have at least one of its strains (there are about 100 of them). Why? Because you cannot protect against HPV, not even with condomns.

 On top of that, most men carry it and most men don’t know they carry it because it doesn’t produce symptoms in men. In fact, most men don’t find out they have it until their significant other gets an abnormal pap smear. So if this is a first for you, you might want to inform your man that sometime in his life he joined the ranks of the HPV-infected. Tell him I said “welcome to the club”. And also tell him to calm the eff down because it isn’t that serious. Most people have it.

Now here is the punchline: HPV is the cause of cervical cancer.

Does HPV have any symptoms?

Aside from causing cervical cancer? It doesn’t seem like it. Some strains cause internal genital warts. So HPV’s only real burden is the threat of cervical cancer.

What do I do?

Most of the time HPV clears on its own via your body’s immune system. But don’t take any chances: play it safe. Go to the specialist (OB & GYN) that your doctor recommends and get the HPV infected cells removed. Doing so is what has drastically dropped and basically eliminated the occurence of cervical cancer in the modern world. Get the precancerous cells removed and avoid cancer later.

How do you know I don’t have cancer?

I don’t. But if you are under 35, it is unlikely. Why? Because cervical cancer is very slow moving. It takes about 8-12 years to develop from those “abnormal” cells that your doctor found into full-blown cancer. This is plenty slow enough for OB & GYN’s to effortlessly erradicate with periodic office procedures.

The Stages

Precancerous HPV starts by causing squamous cells. These are the “abnormal cells” your doctor saw in the microscope that alarmed him/her. They start low grade and then grow to high grade on various spots of the cervix. After 8-12 years of growth and incubation, they turn into cervical cancer and spread to the uterus and then other parts of the body just like any other cancer. And, like any other cancer, they become something lethal.

HPV Vaccine

If you are between 14-25, I highly recommend getting the vaccine for HPV (if you can afford it). Or (what is more likely), if you had this experience and would rather save your daughter from it, get her the vaccine if you can afford it. The vaccine has been shown to protect against the most cancerous strains of HPV. That way, you won’t have to get the somewhat painful and inconvenient periodic office procedures to remove the HPV cells when the HPV gets out of control.

You keep saying “periodic”. What do you mean? Is it going to come back?

From what I know about HPV, it sounds like it. Meaning, you will probably get another “abnormal cell” call from your doctor in a few years telling you that the HPV has resurfaced again and that you need to go to the OB & GYN and get it removed again. Some women get fed up with this and just get a full hysterectomy to eliminate the HPV once and for all.

What office procedures?

The one I’ve seen is called LEEP. The doctor uses an electric instrument to slice off the tip of the cervix. It only takes a minute. It is fairly painful for at least a week (especially if you become strongly sexually aroused while playing around with your partner..). I mean hell, he cut off your cervix. But it will grow back. And it typically eliminates the threat of cancer.

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