Speaker: Women should protect against HPV

About 75 percent of college students have been exposed to Human papillomavirus, an expert said Saturday at the Smart Women Discussion on Women’s Cancer Prevention.

Dr. Mark Messing, chief of obstetrics and gynecology for Harris Methodist HEB hospital, said HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, can be prevented by a vaccine called Gardasil, which is administered before a person becomes sexually active. According to the Food and Drug Addministration, Gardasil can be administered to women and girls ages 13 to 26.

“Over 40 percent of women are introduced to HPV after initiating intercourse,” Messing said.

In February 2007, Gov. Rick Perry ordered that girls entering the sixth grade be vaccinated for HPV. The decision caused a debate of state versus parental rights and Perry’s order was rescinded. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures Web site, 17 states have enacted legislation to require the vaccine as well fund and educate the public. HPV, like genital warts, does not always have visible symptoms, which is why being vaccinated is important, Messing said.

Messing was one of the speakers who participated in a discussion presented by Moncrief Cancer Resources and Texas Christian University Center for Oncology Education and Research in the Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences. Other speakers were Dr. Robyn Young, director of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders and certified genetic counselor Sarah Pirzadeh of Moncrief Cancer Resources and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Many gynecological cancers, such as ovarian cancer, can be difficult to detect because of the lack of early warning signs, Messing said. The Johns Hopkins Ovarian Cancer Center of Excellence Web site lists symptoms for ovarian cancer as abdominal bloating, and changes in bowel or bladder patterns. These symptoms can be associated with several other diseases and this also makes it difficult to diagnose ovarian cancer, Messing said. Ovarian cancer can be prevented by the use of birth control because it regulates the hormones and relieves the stress placed on the ovaries during a woman’s menstrual cycle, he said.

“The most common gynecological cancer is cervical cancer, which can be caused by HPV when left untreated,” Messing said.

Other cancer risks are related to a person’s genetics, or ethnic background, Messing said.

“Women who have the BRCA1 gene or the BRCA2 gene are at high risk to contract breast and ovarian cancer,” Messing said.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a mutation that controls cell growth, Messing said. People who have many family members with a history of cancer should be tested for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, he said.

Pirzadeh said once people know their family’s cancer history and risk they are able to make decisions regarding treatment options. Young said 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers are inherited. Although mammograms are better at detecting abnormalities in breast tissue younger women should examine themselves, she said.

“Younger women have firmer, more dense breast tissue which makes it difficult for mammograms to see through,” Young said.

Moncrief Cancer Resources offered mammograms to attendees through their mobile mammogram.