Saturday, April 07, 2007

women's issues

Today I got the Gardasil vaccine. This makes me nervous. I got it because I know more than one woman who has already had abnormal pap results at the age of 26. I got it because I know at least a couple women who have had to have surgery out of fear of cervical cancer. I got it because I have not yet had an abnormal pap, and I would like to avoid getting a perfectly preventable cancer.

But, it still freaks me out. I think it freaks me out because it appears that women's health means so much less to our doctors and researchers than men's health. If HPV was a virus that cause cancer in men, that potentially could cause men to die, that cannot be stopped by using a condom, and was far too common in the general population, don't you think that the scientists and doctors would have come up with a test for it by now? A girl can be having the safest possible sex, force her boyfriend to get std tested, and even make him wear a condom, and she can get a disease that can kill her if left untreated. Why isn't there a test for men? Doesn't this seem wrong. Women aren't just giving HPV to each other, and women are only tested for HPV if their paps come back abnormal. We know what the strains are that cause cancer, why isn't there a test?

I also am freaked out about Gardasil because we don't know what the long term side effects are. The medical profession routinely recommended that menopausal women go on hormone replacement therapy, only to years later discover that it increased the risk of breast cancer. Almost every menopausal woman was put on these drugs without knowing the risk that she was subjecting herself to. No long term studies have been done on the risk associated with Gardasil, but I couldn't wait for studies - I have to get the vaccine now. In just a few months, I'll be 27 and the FDA has only approved it for women up to the age of 26. If I waited, I couldn't get it or certainly my heath insurance wouldn't cover it. Will we find out in 5 years that Gardisil also creates an increased risk of other, more deadly, cancers? It freaks me out because there's so much we just don't know yet about this vaccine.

But, I decided it was worth it for me. The known risks are minimal - some tenderness, maybe some pain in my arm. I have great insurance so I can get the vaccine at only the cost of three copays - $60. I am a sexually active woman in my twenties. If I don't already have HPV, I'll likely get it. I think something like 90% of all sexually active women have HPV (though most don't have the forms that cause cervical cancer - and don't quote me on that statistic, I made it up). Most women don't know how prevalent HPV is. They don't know that isn't tested for when you get standard std tests. They don't know that condoms are fully effective.

I was going to add something about abstinence only education here, but political views are a no no for me. Be glad to share my views if you know me, but can't do it here

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