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In a recent well visit for my 14-year-old daughter with her pediatrician, we were told that cervical cancer could be transmitted by a handshake. The doctor gave us a kind-hearted lecture for 10 minutes. Immediate vaccination was the recommendation.
Is this true?
In reality, 90% of the world’s cervical cancer comes from HPV (human papilloma virus). Most cases of HPV resolve on their own, but high-risk cases of HPV can lead to cervical cancer.
High risk HPV can be detected via a routine Pap test, where changes to cervical cells can be seen. These changes may resolve on their own. Further testing can be done to determine the necessity of treatment. Treatment is highly successful against precancerous, abnormal cells. Some cases of HPV may progress to cervical cancer if left untreated.
Vaccination against 2 types of HPV (that can lead to 70% of cervical cancers) are available for women age 26 and younger. But vaccination does not prevent all cervical cancers. (source 1, 2) Currently, the Center for Disease Control recommends boys and girls get an HPV vaccine series of shots (3 doses over 6 months) when they are 11 or 12 years old. Some sources recommend the vaccine beginning at age 9. HPV vaccines (there are two available) may help to prevent, not treat, HPV.
Can HPV really be transmitted by handshake? It is unlikely but cannot be ruled out:
While transmission of HPV from fingertips to genital or oral sites is plausible, the lower detection rates in fingertips (compared to genitals) and the predominantly transient nature of detectable HPV in fingertips suggest that fingertips are unlikely to be a significant source of HPV transmission. Nonetheless, given that genital HPV infections are detected (albeit rarely) in virgins, and that non-penetrative sexual contact…has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of genital HPV infection in virgin women, the potential for transmission from fingertips to other sites cannot be ruled out. (emphases mine; source 1, 2)
Washing one’s hands before eating or touching one’s genital region seems obvious, logical and in order, as an added step of precaution.
What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a DNA virus from the papillomavirus family that is capable of infecting humans. Like all papillomaviruses, HPVs establish productive infections only in keratinocytes of the skin or mucous membranes. Most HPV infections are subclinical and will cause no physical symptoms; however, in some people subclinical infections will become clinical and may cause benign papillomas (such as warts [verrucae] or squamous cell papilloma), premalignant lesions that will drive to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, oropharynx and anus. In particular, HPV16 and HPV18 are known to cause around 70% of cervical cancer cases. (source)
What’s the best defense against it, other than practicing “safe sex”? Surprisingly, it’s great nutrition and excellent self-care. (“Safe sex” means different things to different people. When it comes to the HPV virus, it can be transferred by any part of the genital region, even if a condom is being used. Knowing the history of one’s sexual partner is important for prevention.)
70% of women have the virus, and in most cases it resolves itself. Keeping stress low, moderate exercise, and a healthy night’s sleep go a long way toward prevention and relapse. (source)
What about HPV progressing to cervical cancer? When my teenage daughter went to her well visit, the most important message her pediatrician had for us was her strong recommendation to get vaccinated for cervical cancer. She did not mention the HPV virus, but she did say that cervical cancer was the leading cause of death among women in their 20s and 30s.
In reading up on the topic, WebMDs numbers are much lower. 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year. If caught early, cervical cancer is highly curable. (source) If the cancer has progressed, the survival rate is about 68%, depending on the source of information, how early it’s detected, treatment used etc. How long a person’s remission lasts is still unknown, as this disease and treatment do not have long term data.
While there are a relatively low number of new cases of cervical cancer annually, perhaps, again, our doctor meant to state the elevated levels of new HPV cases each year. That number is high indeed: 6 million women contract it annually. However, as we discussed above, 90% of those cases resolve on their own and are not considered high risk.
Regarding prevention, both holistic and medical practitioners recommend that all women, regardless of sexual activity, begin Pap tests every 3 years beginning at the age of 21. Women age 30-65 can go up to 5 years between testing, if they’re low risk and get both a Pap test and the HPV DNA test. (source 1, 2)
Is the HPV vaccine safe?
Medical pediatrician Paul Thomas says, “Until we get proper studies, that vaccine to me is just plain not safe. There are other countries in the world that are no longer doing it because they have a society that’s more open and physicians are allowed to make common sense judgments based on what they’re learning. In these countries, Israel I believe, India I think, there are a few others, they stopped recommending that vaccine. That would be one [vaccine] to answer your question I absolutely would not do.” (source)
One prominent health researcher says this:
We simply do not know whether the vaccine interacts with other medication or medical conditions, and the manufacturers have not studied it yet. This could be a very valid reason why some families and schools might hesitate or opt out.
Joseph Marcola points out that the vaccine contains Polysorbate-80, a surfactant that crosses the blood-brain barrier and that’s linked to infertility in mice. He also questions the integrity of the drug’s ingredients and why the CDC would push so hard to vaccinate against a kind of cancer that he says is “rare to begin with.” (source)
GreenHealthMed.com states “it is important to acknowledge that the vaccine has never even been found to prevent one single case of death from cervical cancer, and yet millions are being exposed to what are likely its unavoidable health risks.”
Dr. Dianne Harper, a leading researcher in the development of one of the HPV vaccines, Gardasil, has now spoken out publicly warning parents of young teenagers to avoid the vaccine. She states the risks outweigh the promised benefits and even sites lupus, seizures, blood clots, and brain inflammation among the possible side effects. (source) She continues, speaking to CBS news, warning about the false sense of security the vaccine gives:
Parents and women must know that deaths occurred. Not all deaths that have been reported were represented… one-third of the death reports were unavailable to the CDC, leaving the parents of the deceased teenagers in despair that the CDC is ignoring the very rare but real occurrences that need not have happened if parents were given information stating that there are real, but small risks of death surrounding the administration of Gardasil.
Hitting the closest to home, in an article titled, “Quantifying the possible cross-reactivity risk of an HPV16 vaccine,” the Journal of Experimental Therapeutics and Oncology revealed this:
Along with the introduction of the HPV vaccines, several cases of onset or exacerbations of autoimmune diseases following the vaccine shot have been reported in the literature and pharmacovigilance databases, triggering concerns about its safety. (source)
As a mother of kids with preexisting autoimmune conditions, which is the lesser of evils for me? Would I rather risk my kids touching someone’s hand who has HPV and contracting it?
Or receiving a vaccine with ingredients known to exacerbate autoimmune issues?
I can trust and educate my kids (and myself) to wash our hands and to be wise sexually. I can’t imagine putting our precious bodies in the care of pharmaceutical companies, the FDA, and the CDC.
Another PhD researcher of the vaccine says this:
It can be difficult to get accurate information solely from health agencies or the pharmaceutical company. The main reason for this is that health authorities exclusively rely on the information provided by the drug manufacturer for giving recommendation to the public. This practice is disturbing to say the least, especially in the light of independent research which has repeatedly warned that drug companies may manipulate clinical trial designs and subsequent data analysis and reporting to make their drugs look better and safer. The reporting of results from clinical trials on HPV vaccines Gardasil and Cervarix illustrates this point. (source)
As always, vaccination is a personal decision. I hope this article has helped to clarify the difference between HPV and cervical cancer. I hope it has also helped to elucidate the role the vaccines play in prevention, as well as the dangers they present. Lastly, for me, it was helpful to revisit the topic of Pap tests, and to know how often I should be getting them, as well as when my daughters should start.
- Proper nutrition and proper self-care help to prevent HPV or relapse.
- Washing one’s hands before touching one’s genital region may help to prevent HPV. However, “Non-sexual hand contact seems to have little or no role in HPV transmission.” (source)
- Monogamous sexual relations with an uninfected partner help to prevent HPV.
- Pap tests every 3 years screen for abnormal cell growth and help to prevent cervical cancer.
- The HPV vaccines can exacerbate autoimmune conditions, have various dangerous side effects, and have even caused death.