SWS: protect yourself with HPV vaccine

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Guest Column, Opinion Columnist

Editor’s Note: The following guest column was submitted by Student Wellness Services.

Cancer sucks! No one likes it, no one wants it, but did you know you can prevent it? According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, every year in the United States 31,500 cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Many people think of HPV as a women’s health issue, as it is well-known to cause cervical cancer. However, HPV does not discriminate — it can affect all genders. HPV can also lead to penile cancer, mouth and throat cancer, anal cancer and other health problems. The treatments for some of these cancers can be devastating to the person and their family.

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that is not spread by bodily fluids, but simply skin to skin contact. Condoms can reduce the risk of transmission, but it doesn’t completely eliminate this risk. Most people with the infection will not have any symptoms. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active people will get the virus at some point in their lives. Besides a pap smear, which tests for cervical cancer, there is not an effective way to screen for the other cancers.

There is also the misconception that oral sex is safe sex. Back in 2007, researchers D’Souza et al. found that having 6 or more oral sex partners increases your risk of getting a mouth and/or throat cancer related to HPV by 3.4 times.

The good news: The Iowa Department of Public Health states that over 80% of these types of cancers can be prevented with the HPV vaccination, Gardasil 9. In addition, Gardasil 9 protects against genital warts and has been shown to be safe and effective. For those who are receiving the vaccine after the age of 15, it is a series of 3 shots over a 6 month period. The vaccine is most effective if given prior to sexual intercourse, but most people don’t know that they have extended the age to receive the vaccine to 45 years old.

Unsure if you have received the vaccine? There are a few ways to find out if you have been vaccinated. First, you can call your health care provider back at home and ask them if you received the vaccine as a child. You can also call the UNI Student Health Clinic, which may have access to those records if they have been sent to the clinic or have been placed into Iowa’s Immunization Registry Information System. Another option would be to send a message via the Patient Portal, found on the UNI Student Health Clinic website, asking if we have record of this vaccination being completed.

Preventing cancer is so much easier than treating it! Ready to receive the Gardasil 9 Vaccine? You may want to check with your insurance on where they want you to receive the vaccination. Some insurance policies require you to receive these with a designated provider. The way to check this would be to call the 1-800 number on the back of your insurance card and ask them if the vaccine would be covered and where they will allow you to receive it. If you are allowed to receive the vaccine at the UNI Student Health Clinic, call 319-273-2009 to schedule your appointment. Already vaccinated? It is still important to have safe sex. Visit the Student Health Clinic for free safer sex supplies. Get smart about HPV — receive the Gardasil 9 Vaccine today!