Seventy-nine million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
When a woman is infected with HPV and it doesn’t go away on its own, abnormal cells can develop in the lining of the cervix, said Melinda Madison, women’s health nurse practitioner. These cells can increase the risk of precancers and cervical cancer.
Students can get Pap smears and HPV testing on campus at the women’s health clinic, or at private obstetrics/gynecology offices, family practices, Tarrant County community clinics and many other places, Madison said.
HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer, she said. This is why doctors recommend women start Pap smears, a procedure that tests for cervical cancer, at the age of 21.
Madison said another factor that could lower the risk of cervical cancer is the HPV vaccine, Madison said. The vaccine will most likely clear a person for HPV, but it won’t clear everyone.
Nursing senior Tiffany Pereyra said although the women in her family don’t see the importance in routine screenings and don’t acknowledge the risks of cervical cancer, she takes the initiative to get tested for her own peace of mind.
“My grandma had ovarian cancer, and I mean, I know they’re obviously different but just even knowing that it’s a hazard for me, and then I have an endocrine disorder that has to do with my ovaries,” Pereyra said. “It’s just something that I think is important.”
The average age that cervical cancer is diagnosed is 48, and it rarely affects people younger than 20, according to the Planned Parenthood website.
Madison said like many other diseases, early detection of HPV or cervical cancer means a faster start to treatment, which is why routine testing is important.
Pap smears should generally be repeated at least every three years for women between the ages of 21 to 65, she said. For women ages 30 and above, doctors recommend a combination of Pap smears and HPV tests.
Neuroscience transient student Aleena Aamal said because women in her family have taken the lead and have started getting Pap smears, she plans on getting one next year when she turns 21.
“We know that it’s something you have to do eventually,” Aamal said.
According to the Planned Parenthood website, there are over 200 kinds of HPV and although most of them are not harmful and will go away on their own, at least a dozen types can last and possibly lead to cancer.
Neuroscience transient student Ranjani Anirudhan said she received the HPV vaccine when she was younger because her mother made sure she got it.
Regular doctor visits aren’t common in her family, Anirudhan said, but she’s glad that her college education has informed her on the risks of cervical cancer and the resources available to lower its risk.
From her experience, she said family and campus health services play an important role in educating and raising awareness among college students.