January is cervical health awareness month, a chance to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves from the human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer.
That's why for the past few weeks I have been preaching about cervical cancer, calling on women to keep attentive on its symptoms and how they can manage its risk factors, especially HPV--a virus that's highly connected to the disease.
What we must not forget is that cervical cancer still claims many lives of women in Tanzania and beyond.
I appreciate the positive feedback that I have been receiving so far about this column. It is a great pleasure, on my part, to know women are getting concerned about cervical cancer awareness.
Little known virus
Many people however, are yet to find enough information about HPV. It's a type of virus that causes many cancers. It's still debatable as to whether it should be classified as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) despite the known fact that it indeed spreads through sexual intercourse.
According to a recent report from center for disease control (CDC), 17 million Africans are currently infected with some form of HPV and more than 1.2 million people are infected each year.
If you have been sexually active, you have got at least 50 per cent chance of having the virus.
In fact, more than 80 percent of sexually active women will get HPV at some point.
Condoms can't completely protect you from HPV
While condom reduce your risk of HPV infection, they can't eliminate it entirely. The virus can live in the scrotum and the hair-bearing areas of the genitals.
So any foreplay that involves skin-to-skin genital contact can transmit the virus. So can oral and anal sex. That's why it it's I always urge young people to get vaccinated to HPV, well before they become sexually active.
If you are infected with HPV, your current sex partner may not be to blame.
When you find out you have HPV don't jump to conclusion about where you contracted the virus from.
Some patients assume that their current sexual partners gave it to them. But that's probably not the case.
The women who develop cervical cancer at age 40, probably got infected shortly after having sex with their first sexual partners.
That's simply because HPV can stay dormant for years before it starts causing cell damage that can lead to cancer. HPV-triggered cancer can take years, or even decades to develop.
Smoking raises the risk of HPV-related to cancer
Smoking weakens the immune system, which can allow the HPV to grow more rampantly.
If you want to prevent dormant HPV infection from turning into precancerous or cancerous growth, endeavor to stop smoking cigarettes today.
Not just good for girls' health
The HPV vaccine not only provides women with nearly 100 percent protection against cervical cancers-but it also provides direct health benefits for men, including prevention of genital warts.
The general recommendation is for all girls and boys be vaccinated at age 9 to 26 but the vaccine can be given as early as age 9 as well as in later years if the person didn't receive the vaccine at the recommended age. In Tanzania, the vaccination plans are yet to target boys though but we may be heading there.
Prevent HPV-related cancers by considering HPV vaccine now!