By Madeline Elkin-Aquino, Health Educator and Outreach Specialist at Little Red Door Cancer Agency, AmeriCorp Public Ally
Valentine’s Day is coming up, which means a couple of things: 1, it’s time to bring out those “loveable” puns and, 2, it’s time to talk about sex. Sexual health is an underdiscussed health topic on its own, but what many people do not know is that sexual health connects to a lot of other health topics—even cancer! So here is the nitty gritty on how your sex life can affect your chances of getting cancer.
What’s the connection?
Certain STI’s can cause cancer. For example, HPV is the most common STI in America affecting between 80% to 90% of those who are sexually active at some point in their lives. HPV has been linked to cervical, anal, vulvar, penial and throat cancer. There are ways to help prevent these cancers, which we will talk about later, but it’s also important to be tested regularly. Women in particular should be getting the Papanicolaou test, also known as a Pap smear, every 3 years if they are between the ages of 21 and 65. Pap smears can detect cervical cancer caused by HPV in its earliest and most treatable stage.
Other STI’s that can cause the infected to be more susceptible to cancer include chronic hepatitis B and C, which are linked to liver cancer; and HIV, which causes an increased risk of several cancers known as “HIV-associated cancers.”
What can I do to protect myself?
- Practice safe sex: Using condoms and getting tested in between each new partner are the first steps! However, it is important to note that condoms do not always cover all infected areas, therefore do not provide complete protection (HPV is an example of this).
- Get vaccinated: HPV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are STIs that can be prevented with a vaccine. Women and men between the ages of 9 and 45 can be vaccinated against HPV for more information check out this link and talk to your doctor or local pharmacy.
For more information on safe sex practices check out this link!