An LGBTQ+ Guide to HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
Embracing our health is an empowering and ongoing journey. Let’s shine a colourful spotlight on a little known but important STI that can affect us all: HPV.
This 4 min read will take you on a quick dive into the world of HPV and how it relates to cancer. We’re going to focus on cervical cancer and cervical screening, but don’t tune out if you don’t have a cervix. Because while you’re here we will give you some important info on anal, mouth, and throat cancers and their relationship with HPV. Sit back, and let’s chat!
“…the good news is in the majority of people HPV is cleared by the body’s immune system in 1-2 years and without causing harm.”
Understanding how HPV is transmitted is essential for adopting preventive measures.
HPV is one of the most common STIs and it can be passed through any kind of sexual contact, including (but not limited to) vaginal/front hole sex, anal, oral, genital skin-to-skin contact, fingering, fisting, or sharing sex toys. There are about 100 types of HPV, around 15 of these can cause cancer. The virus can be inactive in our cells for months, even years, usually without symptoms, making it almost impossible to know how and when it was contracted. You may not even know you have had it! But the good news is in the majority of people HPV is cleared by the body’s immune system in 1-2 years and without causing harm.
The best way to reduce the risk of HPV transmission is through open communication. Ask your partner/s if they’ve had the Gardasil vaccine and talk to them about using protection during sex. Condoms (including on sex toys) and gloves (for fingering and fisting) reduce the risk of HPV, but since it can be passed through skin-to-skin contact, they’re not 100% effective.
If you’re in NSW, ACON provides free safe sex supplies including gloves and condoms (plus lube!) to LGBTQ+ people. We post anywhere in NSW, simply order online here.
Cervical Cancer, Screening & HPV: All Genders, All Love
Cervical cancer and screening are topics often associated with women, but guess what awesome individuals? Anyone with a cervix can be at risk, regardless of gender identity. This is because cervical cancer is primarily caused by certain high-risk strains of HPV. People living with HIV and immunosuppressed people are at greater risk of cervical cancer because they are less likely to clear the HPV virus. So, here’s the deal: regular Cervical Screening Tests, are your superhero allies to prevent cervical cancer from developing. It can take 10 to 15 years for cervical cancer to develop from HPV infection in people with normal immune systems. So regular Cervical Screening Tests help catch any abnormal cell changes in the cervix, which can be monitored or treated to prevent them turning into something more serious.
Imagine being the superhero of your own story. By staying on top of your Cervical Screening Tests, you’re embracing your power! If possible, having open conversations with your healthcare providers is a great way to determine the best screening method tailored to your unique circumstances. Now with the introduction of the self-collection option you are more in control of your Cervical Screening Test than ever before.
Find all the ways you can Own It at your next Cervical Screening Test.
Your health matters, and you deserve the best care possible!
Embracing Anal Health: The Scoop on Anal Cancer & HPV
Okay, let’s switch gears and dive into the world of anal cancer. The LGBTQ+ community face a higher risk of anal HPV infection and anal cancer. So, it’s a crucial topic! Within our community the focus is often on gay and bisexual men and people living with HIV having an increased risk of developing anal cancer . But it’s important for everyone to stay in the know. Some quick facts about anal cancer:
There is not a routine screening program for anal cancer yet, but if you’re at increased risk such as having receptive anal sex, previous diagnosis with HPV related gynaecological cancer, are HIV+ or immunosuppressed, you should talk to your doctor about whether you should get tested for anal HPV.
While we are down here… The jury’s still out on whether HPV causes bowel cancer. Some evidence shows HPV is present in some bowel cancer cases., ,  There is a National Bowel Cancer Screening Program that can help detect bowel cancer early. So better to be safe. If you’re over the age of 50 and overdue for your Bowel Cancer Screening find out how you can Get Your Kit Together.
Remember, knowledge is power, and you’re the star of your health story!
A Spotlight on Mouth and Throat Cancers
Oh, we’re not done yet! HPV also loves to make its presence known in the realm of mouth and throat cancers. So folks, it can be important to stay vigilant with your oral healthcare. Engaging in oral play with a partner who has HPV can increase your risk. Pay attention to any persistent symptoms like a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, or even a lump in the neck. Regular dental check-ups, good oral hygiene, and keeping an eye out for symptoms can help you stay fabulous and fierce.
Your voice matters, so speak up and let your healthcare provider know if you have noticed any changes in your mouth or throat.
The Vaccine: Protecting Against HPV
We’ve got an amazing sidekick in this battle against HPV: the HPV vaccine! No matter how you identify, the vaccine is recommended for everyone, particularly adolescents and young adults aged 9 to 25 years, people who are immunocompromised including people living with HIV, and men who have sex with men. It’s a shield that has been shown to prevent infection by some but not all high-risk strains of HPV associated with cervical cancer but it isn’t a replacement for regular Cervical Screening Tests. It is also known to reduce the risk of anal cancer and other HPV-related diseases.
The HPV vaccine is also recommended for people at higher risk of developing HPV-related diseases, such as people living with HIV, significantly immunocompromised groups and men who have sex with men. Speak to your doctor or healthcare provider to find out more.
Smoking and HPV – A Risky Duo
Because our beautiful community, for a range of reasons, smokes at higher rates it’s worth mentioning that current smokers are at a higher risk of persistent HPV infection and may have a greater chance of developing HPV-related cancers. If you or a friend are thinking about your next quit smoking attempt, check out our quit smoking page This Could Be The One for info and support services.
Unleashing Your Health Journey
We’ve covered a lot of ground, and now it’s time to wrap up our conversation. By embracing knowledge about HPV and its associated risks, you’re unlocking the door to a healthier future. Make sure to stay on top of cervical screenings and remember mouth and throat cancers deserve attention too, so be aware and seek help if something doesn’t feel right.
You, dear LGBTQ+ community, have the strength to take charge of your health and advocate for inclusive and comprehensive care. Together, we can rock this journey and create a future where HPV-related cancers are a thing of the past.
Have you got 5 more minutes and want to learn more about what cancers you could be screening for and when check out In The Know our cancer screening and prevention quiz.
Stay fabulous, stay empowered, and keep on screening!