We're visiting with Jodie McKinney, a mother of five kids, a busy lady who had relied on the Pap smear year after year to look out for cervical cancer, and then she had the opportunity to try a new test, the HPV test, and guess what? The Pap smears were negative, but the HPV test was not. It was repeated, and it was decided with her gynecologist they really should try to look for precancerous cells. They were there, and they were removed. She feels a lot better but learned a lesson that she tells all her friends and us today about maybe they should look into this test. Also with us is Dr. Marie Savard, well-known health advocate, health author, internist as well, and very passionate about this.
So, Marie, we were talking about this virus, HPV. Where does this fit in with this whole risk of cervical cancer, and why is it such a big deal? We heard about the vaccine and where does that fit in? And for women who are older than the age of where we're giving the vaccine, when should they look into this HPV test?
Sure. The virus, something called the HPV virus, human papilloma virus, has been around for hundreds of years, and we now know that all of us, almost every sexually active woman, they say about 80%, has acquired that virus at some point though skin-to-skin contact. You get the virus when you're a young woman, and then what happens for most of us is your own immune system kicks in and fights off the virus, and it's gone.
Where the vaccine fits in is by getting that HPV vaccine before you're exposed to sex, before you're exposed to that virus, you can actually prevent the dangerous strains. Numbers 16 and 18 are the strains that cause almost 70% or more of the cancer, so young women have to talk about getting that vaccine that's going to prevent you from even letting that virus set up house in the first place and cause those cell changes as you get older.
Women who are 30 and over; those are the magic numbers, if you're 30 and over, you've got to start talking to your doc about the HPV test. That's when if your doctor tests you at the same time as the Pap, they scrape for the HPV cells at the same time, they can find out whether you're one of the few, I'll say unlucky, women, and about 5% are, where that virus doesn't go away. Our immune system for some reason doesn’t fight it off. It's only in the women where that virus doesn't disappear, that your body didn't get rid of it, that you really need to be vigilant because it's those women who need to be checked more closely with the fancy tests like the colposcopy and getting treatment for those cell changes that can eventually be caused by the virus.
Okay, and that was Jodie's situation. Jodie, you mentioned that your doctor repeated the HPV test and saw in this interval that it was not dormant and that it was still hanging around. So, you were in that 5% that Dr. Savard was talking about, right?
Yes, I was one of the unlucky 5%.
I know, and I use the word "unlucky" because although we know that certain behaviors like smoking; believe it or not, cigarette smoking kind of prevents your immune system from fighting off the virus. Okay, that's easy. Tell somebody to stop smoking. But truthfully, if you have one of the virulent strains, like a #16 or #18, which Jodie probably did have, those are harder to get rid of, and those are the ones that are in the vaccine and the ones that we can detect with the HPV test. That's why it's a great tool. It really adds to your doctor's ability to find who's at risk for cancer and who's not. It's virtually 100% peace of mind. You get that HPV test and you don't carry the virus, you can be 100% assured that over the next few years you're not going to develop cell changes, and you're not therefore at risk for cervical cancer.