Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Dotting the I's between whoring & cancer

My wife was indignant. Right in the middle of her Family Circle magazine was an ad for the HPV (human papillomavirus) test. Nothing wrong with that. What was the problem? Five attractive thirtyish women -- white, hispanic, African-American, pc -- peer out from the page. Below them in large print one reads: "If you're a gambling woman, then getting just a Pap test is fine." Below that, one reads the relevant details:
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by a virus -- the human papillomavirus (HPV). A Pap test looks for the abnormal cells caused by HPV but may not find them until it is too late. Only the HPV test can detect the virus and is nearly 100% accurate.

When used along with a Pap, the HPV test can help your doctor reduce your chance of developing cervical cancer and is approved for screening women 30 and over.

Learn more before your next doctor's appointment. 877-HPV-FACT

Ask your doctor -- tell your friends.
In fine print at the bottom of the page, one learns that the ad is placed by Digene Corp. An article by Michael S. Rosenwald in Washington Post (March 21, 2005) entitled "Digene's Ads Take Their Case To Women" states that Digene contracted with Gotham, Inc., a New York agency, to formulate the ad campaign, whose goal is to get women "to stop, read, then take action, either by talking to their doctor or visiting the firm's educational Web site."

This is serious stuff. But why shouldn't women be warned about the risks of cancer involved in human papillomavirus, especially if they can reduce the risks by taking a specific HPV test, as opposed to a conventional Pap test that could fail to detect the abnormal carcenogenic cells? Why should my wife be indignant about any of this, I wondered, until she told me the reason. The ads leave out one crucial bit of information. They aren't saying anything about what causes HPV, and the answer is simple: promiscuous sex.

Over at the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the article on "Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection" states the facts baldly:
Genital HPV infection is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Human papillomavirus is the name of a group of viruses that includes more than 100 different strains or types. More than 30 of these viruses are sexually transmitted, and they can infect the genital area of men and women including the skin of the penis, vulva (area outside the vagina), or anus, and the linings of the vagina, cervix, or rectum. Most people who become infected with HPV will not have any symptoms and will clear the infection on their own.

Some of these viruses are called "high-risk" types, and may cause abnormal Pap tests. They may also lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, or penis.
But go to the Digene Corp. website,, and you will find not a word about what causes HPV. Of course it's not hard to guess why. What woman wants to be told that her recreational sex may be causing cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, or of some guy's carcinomic penis? It just ain't nice -- especially in public ads. So hush!

Still, this is only the latest example in a long history of public misinformation about medical facts -- misinformation fueled by political considerations. One of the biggest offenders are the pharmaceutical corporations invested in the contraceptive industry, who have no desire to dot the i's between contraception and cancer. No less egregious is Planned Parenthood's campaign to keep the lid on the connection between abortion and cancer. Read more here.

Anyone like to run a public service ad telling the truth? For one thing, the news is good news: women in faithfully committed marriages have nothing to worry about when it comes to cancers caused by HPV. Nor do they have to worry about sexually transmitted HIV. Furthermore, if they are faithful Catholics, they have nothing to worry about when it comes to cancers caused by birth control pills or abortion. Life is so much easier when you follow the instructions in the Owner's manual.

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