March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. In honor of the month and of March 21, Anal Cancer Awareness Day, we at SelfCollect would like to shed some light on anal STDs, specicially, the human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV, the sexually transmitted disease, is found in a majority of those with anal cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. Due to this, HPV is thought to be a cause of anal cancers.
Let’s take a step back, though. What is HPV? It’s the most common STD in the country, affecting over 79 million Americans. Don’t worry! There are about 200 different strains of HPV and not all of them cause cancer or serious medical complications. A positive HPV test does not mean you have cancer or will ever develop cancer.
Each strain can be classified as either low-risk or high-risk. Low-risk strains may lead to warts on your anus or genitals, if any symptoms develop at all. High-risk strains do not cause warts, but they can cause cancerous changes. Thankfully, it detected early, treatment is available before the progression to cancer would occur.
Raising Awareness on Anal Cancer
Anal cancer is an uncommon form of cancer that is found in the anal cavity of males and females. Like with any form of cancer, it is caused when a mutation (caused by HPV) occurs in your body’s healthy cells.
The mutation causes the cells to multiply uncontrollably and do not die, like normal cells do. The mutated cells then invade surrounding tissues and can spread throughout the body. Unlike other forms of cancer, anal cancer rarely spreads beyond the rectal cavity, though it can spread to the liver and lungs.
Symptoms of anal cancer may be rectal bleeding, anal discomfort, or abnormal changes of the cells in the anus (as identified on an Anal Pap Test).
What is HPV?
We’ve already stated that HPV is one of the most common STDs in the country, but what exactly is it? HPV is a virus that does not yet have a medical cure. However, in most cases, your body will clear an active infection on its own. The disease is usually harmless and many who have it do not have any symptoms.
If you do have symptoms, the most common one is the appearance of genital warts. The warts are lesions that can appear on your genitals or mouth. They are highly contagious and you should avoid contact with them until your doctor can treat them.
The warts can be treated with a prescription cream or removed by a medical professional.
There are a lot of myths surrounding the transmission of HPV because symptoms can take years to develop, if they develop at all. HPV can only be transmitted by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. You cannot get HPV by touching someone who has the disease, sharing food utensils, or using the same bathroom.
Who is at Risk?
You are at an increased risk of developing anal cancer if any of the following apply to you:
You are above the age of 50
You have had (or currently have) multiple sexual partners
You engage in anal sex
In women, you have a history of cervical or vulvar dyslapsia
If you have HPV at other anatomic sites
If you are taking medications or drugs that suppress your immune system (especially those that are HIV positive)
How To Prevent Anal Cancer
There is no way to prevent cancer from forming, but you can decrease your risk of cancer developing by continuing to screen for the presence of HPV, monitoring cell changes via an Anal Pap Test and by quitting smoking if you are currently a smoker.
You can also reduce your risk of HPV by engaging in safe sex with one partner and getting you and your partner tested before engaging in any sexual activity.
How To Test for Anal Cancer and HPV
Fortunately, an anal HPV test or anal Pap Test can now easily and painlessly detect the presence of the virus and any abnormal cells.
You can also choose to skip the doctor’s office and take an at-home test from us at SelfCollect. Our Anal HPV swab test is simple, pain free and accurate. Everything is mailed to you in a discreet box. You simply take a swab sample and send it back to our lab in the prepaid package. Then you will be notified when your results are ready to view.
We also have a full Anal STD Panel which tests for high-risk HPV, chlamydia and gonorrhea, Herpes Virus I and II. You can also add the full HPV Genotyping add-on, which will identify exactly what strain of HPV you have, if you test positive, and also detect the two genital wart causing viruses: HPV-6 and HPV-11. For more information, check out our resource center.
Always remember that a positive test is not something to panic about. Most STDs are treatable. If you’re concerned about your sexual health or want to get you and your partner tested before engaging in sexual activity, check out our testing options today.