It is hard for most parents to see their little girl growing up and becoming a woman. Just like when she was a little girl, the need for you to protect your daughter will always be there. Whether she is sexually active or not, it is a good idea to start considering her sexual health and how you can protect her from getting HPV.
Why should I be concerned about HPV?
- It's very likely that your daughter will be exposed to HPV, and probably at a young age. About 75% of Canadians will be infected with HPV at least once in their lives, and probably before the age of 25.
- HPV can cause health problems such as genital warts, cervical cancer, and vulvar and vaginal cancers. Although most HPV infections go away on their own without causing any harm, they can sometimes lead to these serious health problems, which can have a major impact on your daughter's future health and happiness. To learn more about what it means to have these conditions, see below.
- As soon as your daughter becomes sexually active, she is at risk. HPV infection only takes one sexual encounter. Your daughter may become infected during her first time, even if sexual intercourse doesn't occur.
- Although your daughter's body often clears the infection on its own, there is currently no way to cure HPV, and she may be re-infected more than once throughout her life. The good news is that there are ways to minimize your daughter's risk of being infected. Go to "How can I protect my daughter from HPV?" for more information.
HPV and cervical cancer
Did you know that cervical cancer is caused by certain types of HPV?
Although most HPV infections go away on their own without causing any harm, certain types of HPV may infect the cells of the cervix (the opening that connects the vagina and uterus), making the cells more likely to become cancerous.
In general, cervical cancer develops slowly. If it's found early enough, cervical cancer can be successfully treated. If the cancer is not detected through regular Pap tests, it could be quite advanced by the time a woman discovers that she has it. Late detection will affect the prognosis and treatment. All sexually active women should have regular Pap tests to screen for changes in cervical cells and for cervical cancer.
What could this mean for your daughter?
- If precancerous cells are caught early through a Pap test, she can most often be successfully treated.
- If the cancer is not caught early and has time to progress, she may need to undergo surgery or radiation therapy.
- The later the cancer is detected, the lower the survival rate.
The statistics on cervical cancer:
- It is the second most common cancer among Canadian women aged 20 to 44 years old.
- Every year, an estimated 1,400 Canadian women are newly diagnosed with cervical cancer.
HPV and abnormal cervical cells
Female reproductive system
HPV may also cause abnormal cells (also called cervical dysplasia) to form on the cervix. Cervical dysplasia involves cells that have changed in appearance. Cervical dysplasia is not cancer, but the cells may be called precancerous because they can develop into cervical cancer. Although your daughter's body often clears the HPV infection on its own, these cells could eventually turn into cervical cancer if not treated. Cervical dysplasia is usually discovered during a routine Pap test, which is one of the best screening methods for detecting abnormal cells.
About 350,000 Pap tests come back with abnormal results each year in Canada. Since there are often no noticeable symptoms associated with cervical dysplasia, it is very important to stress to your daughter the importance of getting a regular Pap test. All women are encouraged to have regular Pap tests.
Did you know that up to 50% of women with cervical cancer didn't have their Pap tests as recommended?
Having regular Pap tests is a very effective way to help prevent cervical cancer from developing.
Talk to your doctor or your daughter's doctor for more information on Pap tests.
HPV and genital warts
HPV can cause genital warts. In fact, certain low-risk types of HPV are responsible for most cases of genital warts. Genital warts are very contagious and are the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Genital warts are flesh-coloured bumps that can be either flat or raised like a typical wart. Sometimes, they're described as "cauliflower-like." These can be found anywhere in or on the genitals or on the thighs.
They're highly contagious: 2 out of 3 people who have sex with an affected partner will develop genital warts, usually within 3 months of sexual contact. Because genital warts can be very small or internal, there's a chance that if your daughter develops them, she may not even know.
Not sure what genital warts look like? See pictures of genital warts.
The good news is that you can help your daughter avoid the embarrassment and discomfort of genital warts.
What could this mean?
- Although genital warts don't cause pain, they can cause discomfort during sexual activity.
- They can also cause problems during pregnancy and delivery.
- Genital warts can be treated with prescription medications (applied directly to the warts), electric currents, freezing, or laser surgery, but because HPV cannot be cured, the warts may return.
- Because they can be unpleasant-looking and embarrassing, genital warts may also cause emotional problems.
Go to "How can I protect my daughter from HPV?" for more information.
HPV and vulvar and vaginal cancer
HPV can cause vulvar cancer (cancer of the outer female genital area) and vaginal cancer (cancer of the vagina).
When certain types of HPV infect the cells of the vagina and vulva, they cause the cells to change in ways that make them more likely to become cancer cells.
The good news is that you can take steps now to protect your daughter from vulvar and vaginal cancers. Talk to your daughter's doctor about all of the options that are available for her, including practicing safer sex, having frequent Pap tests and checkups, and getting vaccinated.