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Black and Informed: Bringing Awareness to HPV

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

In the Black community, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) remains a significant health concern. Globally, HPV is recognized as the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), impacting millions of individuals (1). It is estimated that 80 percent of the global population will have an HPV infection at some point in their lives (2). While most HPV infections do not lead to cancer, it's crucial to address the link between HPV and certain cancers, as these issues disproportionately affect the Black community. By understanding how HPV is transmitted and the preventive measures available, we can collaborate to create healthier and more informed communities.


Understanding HPV and its Transmission

HPV is primarily transmitted through close sexual contact: oral, anal, and vaginal sex. The virus can also spread through skin-to-skin contact of genitalia, regardless of penetration or ejaculation. Because HPV does not always present with symptoms, it is often spread unknowingly.


You cannot get HPV from:

  • Toilet seats

  • Hugging or holding hands

  • Swimming pools or hot tubs

  • Sharing food or utensils

To date, there are more than 100 known strains of HPV. Some strains can lead to genital warts and others can cause cancer. However, not all strains will lead to a cancer diagnosis. There are about 14 strains of HPV that are considered high-risk. Two of these, HPV16 and HPV18, are responsible for most HPV-related cancers.

Cancers linked to HPV infection (3)

  • Cervical cancer

  • Vulvar cancer

  • Vaginal cancer

  • Penile cancer

  • Anal cancer

  • Oropharynx cancer

In the US, about 10,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, with approximately 4,000 deaths. Cervical cancer stands as the second leading cause of death among women (4). Nearly all cervical cancer cases are linked to a high-risk HPV infection. Men are equally susceptible to HPV infections and related health complications. Approximately 4 of every 10 cases of cancer caused by HPV occur among men. Annually in the U.S., more than 15,000 men are diagnosed with cancer resulting from an HPV infection (5).


Who is at risk?

HPV is very common. Anyone sexually active is at risk for contracting an HPV infection, regardless of sex, gender, identity, or sexual orientation. Other factors that may increase someone’s risk of contracting HPV:

1. HPV infections are common among young adults and adolescents. The CDC reports that there are approximately 14 million new HPV infections annually, and nearly half of these occur in people aged 15 -24 (6).

2. Individuals with compromised immune systems are at greater risk of contracting an HPV infection. HIV and AIDS weaken the immune system, making it difficult to fight infections effectively.

3. Unvaccinated individuals are susceptible to high-risk HPV infections, which could lead to cancer.

4. Lifestyle choices, such as smoking put you at higher risk of contracting an HPV infection. Smoking exposes your body to harmful chemicals that weaken your body’s immune system.

5. Having multiple sexual partners will increase the risk of HPV transmission.

Unfortunately, certain factors increase the risk of contracting HPV in the Black community. Limited access to healthcare, cultural beliefs, and socioeconomic disparities can create barriers to preventive care and information. These barriers can lead to a lack of understanding about HPV and its potential consequences.


How can I lower my chances of getting HPV?

There is no sure way to prevent infection from every type of HPV, but there are things you can do to lower your chance of infection.

1. Get vaccinated

Getting the HPV vaccine is the best way to prevent negative health impacts from the virus. The vaccination is recommended for both males and females starting at the age of 11 or 12 years old (vaccination can be started at the age of 9). The vaccination is given in a two or three-dose series, depending on the age at which the series is started. It is important to complete the entire series to ensure the most benefit. The vaccine is safe and effective!

HPV vaccines are available to your local health department, community health clinics, school-based health centers, and your doctor’s office.

2. Do your preventive screenings

A cervical screening or Pap smear plays a critical role in preventing cervical cancer and promoting early intervention for HPV-related abnormalities. This screening can only be performed on individuals with a cervix. Pap smears are recommended at the age of 21 and should be repeated every 3 years for women aged 21-29 and every 5 years for women 35-65. There is no routine diagnostic test for men, but men should see a physician and get a visual examination where your provider will look for the presence of genital warts.


How do I know if I have HPV?

Detecting HPV can be challenging because often the virus does not present with symptoms. Most people have HPV without realizing it, which is why regular screenings and check-ups are vital. Some strains of HPV cause genital warts, which are a good indicator that you may have HPV. Consult your doctor if you experience genital warts to get an accurate diagnosis.


Treatment

There are currently no treatment options for the HPV virus itself. Most infections will clear up on their own over time. Treatment generally focuses on managing symptoms and related conditions. Please know there are many different types of HPV, becoming immune to one HPV type may not protect you from getting HPV again if exposed to another HPV type.

Conclusion

By addressing HPV in the Black community through education and awareness, we can reduce the impact of the virus and improve the overall health outcomes of our communities. Remember, knowledge is power, and together we can protect ourselves, support one another, and break the barriers that hinder our well-being. Stay informed, stay healthy, and let's work towards a future free from the burden of health disparities that disproportionately affect our community - like HPV. Learn more about The Kansas Black Health Initiative and begin promoting equity and wellness for Black communities in Kansas today.




Citations

1. Std Facts - Human papillomavirus (HPV) [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2022 [cited 2023 Jul 26]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm#:~:text=HPV%20is%20the%20most% 20common,including%20genital%20warts%20and%20cancers

2. Reasons to get HPV vaccine [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2021 [cited 2023 Jul 26]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine/six-reasons.html#:~:text=85%25%20of%20people%20will%20get,go%20away%20on%20their%20own

3. HPV and cancer: Human papillomavirus and cancer [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jul 26]. Available from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/risk-prevention/hpv/hpv-and-cancer-info.html

4. Human papillomavirus (HPV): Facts and details: Sedgwick County, Kansas [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jul 26]. Available from: https://www.sedgwickcounty.org/health/facts-info-and-statistics/health-information-and-statistics/human-papillomavirus-hpv-facts-and-details/

5. Cancers caused by HPV [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2022 [cited 2023 Jul 26]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/cancer.html#:~:text=Vaccinating%20boys%20can%20prevent%20cancers,at%20age%2011%E2%80%9312%20years.

6. Meites E, Gee J, Unger E, Markowitz L. Human Papillomavirus [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2021 [cited 2023 Jul 26]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/hpv.html#:~:text=Approximately%2014%20million%20new%20HPV,age%2018%20through%2059%20years.


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