MAY 2, 2012
"I'm sorry to tell you this Miss Bloggins but you have a nasty case of genital warts." "Noooo, not warts! I'd rather have cancer!"
"Well I'm afraid you might have that too."
Unfortunately Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is responsible for both unsightly genital warts (as well as the sightly ones) AND cervical cancer, one of the most devastating diseases of womankind. In 1935 George Papanicolaou ("Pap" to his buddies) of Cornell University discovered that by taking a wee scraping from the opening to the womb he was able to determine, under a microscope (he was a small guy), if pre-cancerous cells were brewing.
Little did Dr. Pap know that he was looking for damage caused by the Human Papilloma Virus. Papillomas for Doc Papanicolaou. Pap looking for pap (likely not related). Poor George eventually became so disenchanted with having the pap test named after him that he left science and became an annoying celebrity photographer only later to discover they were called ... paparazzi.
Consider these sobering FACTS:
1. 14 North American women die of cervical cancer each day
2. 85 percent of them had not had routine Papanicolaou smears
3. Every 2 1/2 minutes a woman on this planet dies of cervical cancer
4. Due to lack of screening facilities, cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women in third world countries
5. 15,000 North American women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year
6. A turtle can actually breathe through its butt, right past its prostate
The main purpose of Mr. Papinocolau's test is to detect the presence of HPV- induced pre-cancerous lesions. The pap screening test is the reason that cervical cancer has gone from being the commonest deadly cancer of women to a cancer so low in North America that only 5000 women die each year (most of whom have not had recent pap smears). But Pap smears, de test that women detest may soon be a thing of de past.
In the exciting world of tumour "immunotherapeutics" (exciting because you can impress your friends and score huge scrabble point with jargon like that) HPV vaccines are now proven effective at preventing cervical cancer and warts! A vaccine for cancer. It is geared toward the junior high school-aged girls before they become sexually active, as Rick Perry knows all to well. 60 percent of women contract HPV within five years of beginning sexual activity. Unfortunately HPV can have a deadly consequence. Nuns do not get cervical cancer or genital warts (a "pap"al state?), though Sister Mary Mashbone of my school used to have a wart on her chin that looked like it would give you cancer, a stroke and several heart attacks if it ever touched you.
Others vaccines are currently being developed against assorted cancers such as ovarian, and breast cancer. And now HPV vaccines are being recommended for young men. And for the prostatic man in your life there is work being done on a vaccine against prostate cancer, which should make all men who hate prostate checks ecstatic, and, of course, allow turtles to breath a little easier.