Sexual Health and Cancer Risk
September is Sexual Health Awareness Month. Did you know that some Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) can increase your risk of cancer? There are many ways you can protect yourself from acquiring these diseases. If you do receive a diagnosis for an STD that is linked to cancer, you can talk to your healthcare team about strategies to reduce your cancer risk. Keep reading to learn more about three STDs that can increase cancer risk and how you can protect yourself.
Practice Safer Sex
First, you should also always use protection when partaking in sexual activities. Barriers such as condoms, female condoms, and dental dams lower your risk of contracting an STD. Remember, oral birth control, IUDs, and other forms of hormonal birth control offer no protection again STDs. You should also be regularly tested for STDs and ask your partner to get tested too. Many people with STDs show no symptoms and do not even know they are infected.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
HPV is actually a group of over 150 related viruses. Most HPV infections eventually go away on their own. Many people never show any symptoms. However, if an HPV infection does not go away, it can lead to genital warts or cancer—especially cervical cancer, oral, throat, or anal cancer. According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, HPV is found in about 99% of cervical cancer diagnoses.
What you can do:
The HPV vaccine is recommended for young women through age 26, and young men through age 21. More than 29,000 cases a year of cervical cancer could be prevented with the HPV vaccine. The vaccine also lowers your risk for other types of HPV-related cancers.
Hepatitis B (HBV)
Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease caused by the HBV virus. A Hepatitis B infection can either be acute or chronic. Chronic infections can lead to liver cancer.
What you can do:
The Hepatitis B vaccine is a routine vaccine for children in the United States. If you did not receive the vaccine as a child, you can still get it as an adult.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
HIV is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). There is no cure for HIV, but with treatment, HIV can be controlled with antiretroviral therapy. HIV attacks the immune system making it more difficult for the body to fight off infections and disease. Since HIV weakens the immune system, it increases the risk for Kaposi sarcoma, lymphoma, and some other cancers.
What you can do:
Practice safe sex. Use condoms every time to reduce your risk. Get tested regularly if you are sexually active. Ask your partner to get tested as well. If you are at high risk for contracted HIV such as being in a relationship with someone who is HIV positive, talk to your doctor about Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PreEP). PreEP is taking a daily medication to lower the risk of HIV infection for high-risk individuals. PrEP, when taken correctly, can reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%.
Even if you are diagnosed with HPV, HBV, or HIV, it’s important to note that a diagnosis only increases cancer risk—it is not a guarantee that you will be diagnosed with cancer. Cancer risk is effected by many, many different factors including, but not limited to, family history, lifestyle, diet, and age. Talk to you doctor about your risk. Be sure to ask what screening schedule is appropriate for you and what you can do to reduce your risk.