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Women care more about STD prevention than avoiding cervical cancer

Category: Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Women care more about STD prevention than avoiding cervical cancer

Over the years, scientists have developed condoms and vaccines to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, as well as STD testing services that allow people to know their status. However, these testing and prevention methods are only effective if people choose to use them. Unfortunately, research continues to show that many people do not use condoms, and even fewer have been receiving the vaccine that helps protect against the human papillomavirus.

HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can potentially cause cervical cancer. While there is now a vaccine that helps prevent strains of this virus, healthcare professionals have had trouble encouraging young women to get it. Recently, researchers from Ohio State University discovered that when doctors are discussing the benefits of the vaccine to women, they should focus on STD prevention, rather than the fact that the shot may help them avoid developing cancer.

Against the grain
According to the researchers, these findings go against the conventional thought that women would be more concerned with developing cancer than getting an STD. The scientists explained that many healthcare providers have been stressing the cancer-prevention benefits of the HPV vaccine, and that the failure of this message may be why fewer than 20 percent of adolescent girls in the U.S. have gotten it.

Janice Krieger, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University, explained that young girls don't respond well to the threat of cancer, and are more concerned about getting an STD.

She said that early studies of the HPV vaccine suggested that women were most interested in the cancer prevention aspects of the vaccine. However, these studies were conducted on women of all ages, when the shot is actually targeted to women under the age of 26.

"Cancer is something people start to worry about later in life, not when they're in high school and college. We decided to do a clean study that compared what message worked best with college-aged women versus what worked with their mothers," Krieger said.

To come to their conclusions, researchers spoke to 188 female college students with an average age of 22, and 115 of their mothers with an average age of 50. The scientists gave half the women a package with HPV vaccine information with the headline "Prevent cervical cancer," while the others got a package that said "Prevent genital warts." Then then asked the women how they felt about the vaccine. Results showed that among young women, the genital warts prevention message was the clear winner.

"Cancer may seem to be the more serious issue to some older adults, but it is not the top concern for young women," concluded Krieger.

The danger is real
Whether or not young women are concerned about it, the threat of cervical cancer caused by HPV is real. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. Furthermore, 95 percent of anal cancer cases and 65 percent of vaginal cancer has been linked to HPV. This is why it is so important for people to protect themselves against this virus. While the vaccine does help prevent certain HPV strains, it does not protect against all forms of the virus, so people who get the HPV shot should still use condoms to help protect themselves against this and other STDs.

Most of the time, HPV clears itself up. However, no one wants to be part of the small percentage that does end up developing cancer as a result of contracting this virus, which is why they should protect themselves.

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