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Female College Students at Risk for Cervical Cancer

By Rosa Perez
On May 18, 2011

  • A way for women to take care of themselves. Photo Courtesy of Bridge Contributor.

Believe it or not, human papilloma virus (HPV) spreads through sexual activity with an infected individual.  Although condoms do provide some protection, the virus is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact making it possible to come into contact with the virus even when a condom is used. HPV is a DNA virus with more than 100 different types having been identified; approximately 30 types are sexually transmitted.

Early age of first sexual intercourse is associated with greater susceptibility to HPV infection, possibly due to the immature status of the cervix.  In the US, sexual activity begins in ninth grade for 29.3% of girls, and 62.4% of twelfth grade girls report prior sexual activity.  Early sexual behavior warrants the importance of a prophylactic HPV vaccine for younger females, prior to becoming sexually active, in order to provide the most public health benefit.  Furthermore, factors that have been associated with an increased risk of acquiring HPV include age, condom use, increasing cumulative number of sexual partners, sex with a new partner, knowing a partner less than a year, and marital status.

Cervical cancer is primarily caused HPV and is the most common cause of cancer-related mortality among women. HPV is the most commonly sexually acquired infection in the United States, infecting at least 50-75% of sexually active men and women at some point in their lives.  Approximately 20 million Americans currently can carry this virus, with another 6.2 million new infections per year.  It is estimated that in 2008, 11,070 women in the United States were diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer and 3,870 will die.

The papanicolaou (Pap) cytology test has proven to be an effective screening tool in identifying the precursor lesion associated with HPV infection. Low risk HPV types, HPV-6 and HPV-11, are responsible for 90% of genital warts cases.  High risk HPV types, HPV-16 and HPV-18, account for approximately 70% of cervical cancer cases.

The prevalence of HPV has been found to be highest among young people within the first years after sexual activity is initiated and was found to be the highest among females aged 20-24 years. Each year, approximately 6.2 to 7.5 million Americans become infected with genital HPV.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that unless vaccinated, approximately 80% of sexually active women will acquire HPV by the age of 50.

There are a few methods that can be used to prevent HPV. For instance, abstaining from sexual activities, which is the only 100% method in which one can be free from this virus and all STDs.

Another tip is to limit the number of sexual partners, and having monogamous relationships can all reduce the chance of contracting HPV.  Testing is done through pap smears. For testing and medical services, individuals are advised to visit their personal medical provider or come by or call TAMIU Health Services for more information.

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