Mar. 16th, 2009

HPV News

Mar. 16th, 2009 12:52 pm
joreth: (Super Tech)
There are a few articles that have made it into the news about HPV that I want to share, in the interest of being what seems to be the only online source for laymen to keep up with medical advancement.  They're not groundbreaking, society-changing news flashes, like the vaccine was, but they may eventually lead to one, and they're exciting even for their lack of flashy news coverage.

The first is that researchers have found a genetic component that makes people more or less susceptible to succumbing to HPV.  This is important for the future trend of customized healthcare.  Knowing that you are genetically likely to have your HPV infection turn into cancer if you get HPV would allow doctors to tailor your screening schedule to increase the chances that they'll catch it early, whereas people who have an increased genetic ability to fight the HPV infection so that it passes through the system harmlessly can rely on the once-a-year screening.

Cancer has always been a mystery to us.  Even when we know that certain strains are caused by viruses, or tobacco smoke, or whatever, we are still struggling to answer the question "why did this person get cancer and that person didn't?"  We know that at least 80% of women will have an HPV infection at some point in their lives, but the percentage of those women who actually get cervical cancer is small.  Unfortunately, even though it's small, it's still a crap shoot for which ones are which, so even though it's statistically small, it's still terrifying to those who can do nothing but wait to find out which camp they fall into.  Successful treatment of cervical cancer lowers the death toll even more due to regular pap smears, but why do some people get cancer from their cancer-causing strain of HPV and others pass the virus through their system?  According to this article, some women have certain gene variations that makes their bodies better able to mount an immune response to an HPV infection.  Knowing which of us has this ability and which of us don't can significantly improve the chances of those who don't.

Now, once you have HPV, there is a screening process to let us know that we have HPV, hopefully before it turns into full-blown cancer.  The FDA has just approved a new DNA test for HPV.  For a long time, the Pap smear was all the defense we had.  I don't know off the top of my head when we knew that cervical cancer was caused by HPV, but since HPV was so easy to catch, the medical community just assumed that, as women, we would eventually get it, so they just screened us for cancer as part of a regular maintenance checkup.  The Pap smear detected "abnormal" cells, which could range from just random wierdness in cells on the cervix to cancerous lesions, and everything in between.  The goal was to detect the abnormalities that would eventually turn into cancer before they turned into cancer.  And this process was, and is, pretty good.  Women in first world countries who get regular pap smears have a massively significantly higher chance of surviving cervical cancer than women in third world countries who do not get screened.

But, eventually, someone came up with a test to find out if those abnormal cells were, in fact, caused by HPV, as opposed to just general cell wierdness, and therefore likely to turn into cancer if untreated.  It is recommended that women over 30 get this test no matter what, but it has been my personal experience that doctors don't give the test unless you have any kind of abnormal results for your pap smear, but that they will automatically do the test when you get abnormal results.  We call this a DNA test, and it is, but it really can only tell us 1) do we have an HPV infection (if the answer is no, we assume it's something else) and 2) is our strain of HPV "high risk" or "low risk".  It does not tell us which strain of HPV we have, specifically.

But now, the FDA has approved a test that will identify, specifically, if your high-risk strain of HPV is 16 or 18, the two strains that are responsible for 70% of cancer cases and the two high-risk strains that are found in Gardasil, the only FDA approved vaccine (Gardasil does have competitors that are approved in other countries, but not here).

The company who manufactures this test say that it should be arriving in doctor's offices within the next 3 months.  The idea for this test is, like the genetic discovery, to customize our healthcare.  If we know for sure that we have one of these strains of HPV, even if we have not begun showing cellular breakdown, our doctors can recommend more frequent pap smears to keep an eye on the infection, thereby catching it even sooner than before, and it will also tell us if our body has been able to clear the strain entirely for those who test positive at first but test negative later.

And the final piece of news is about preventing an HPV infection all together.  Gardasil protects against 16 and 18, the strains responsible for 70% of cases of cervical cancer, and against 6 and 11, the strains responsible for 90% of the cases of warts.  A new vaccine, currently called V503, protects against all 4 of those, plus 5 more cancer-causing strains.  For those who had not learned how the vaccine actually works, this article explains very simply and succinctly.  The vaccine contains proteins that form a hollow sphere that resembles an HPV virus, but doesn't actually contain the virus itself, so you will not get HPV from this vaccine.  But because it *looks* like HPV, it forces our immune systems to create antibodies against HPV because our bodies *think* they're being attacked by HPV.  That way, by the time a real HPV virus comes in contact with our immune system, we already have antibodies in our system to repell the virus. 

This new vaccine is currently undergoing clinical trials, which means that it won't be available on the public market for a few years.  Like Gardasil, it will be initially targeted at women ages 9-26 because the the most HPV infections occur in women ages 15-25.  If you are a healthy, non-pregnant female age 16 to 26, with a history of no abnormal pap smears, you are eligible to participate in the study and the article gives a phone number to call for more information.  The study will give women one of two shots.  You will either get Gardasil or you will get this new vaccine.  Either way, you will get vaccinated against HPV (and for free, I might add).  It requires office visits every few months for 7-months up to 3.5 years that will include pelvic exams and HPV screenings.  If I were within the eligible age range, I'd *so* sign up for this!

joreth: (Misty in Box)

I'm watching the first episode of the new season of Dancing With The Stars and some of the off-the-cuff comments by the stars have sparked this train of thought.

Ballroom dancing is terrifying.  It's not just that it's a physically difficult activity.  It really taps into people's fears of weakness and vulnerability.  This was surprising to me.  I don't consider myself a very *good* ballroom dancer, but I do consider myself a dancer.  Dancing has always spoken to me.  Dancing gives me all the same feelings that sex does: the physical exertion, the connection with a partner, the euphoria from the brain chemicals, I both retreat into myself and feel separate from myself simultaneously.  I even notice a similar set of differences between dance partners who are strangers, regular partners, and dancing alone vs. the differences in sex partners who are strangers, regular partners, and alone.  Dancing touches something deep inside of myself so that I can't even fathom this fear that others have of it.  I would be just as upset to give up dancing as I would to give up sex, it taps into so many of the same feelings for me, so I can't put myself in the mindset of anyone who would refuse to try it at all out of fear.

One of the things that have always confused me was the fear of so many men of not being manly.  Now, I also don't rightly comprehend this need to be the epitome of one's gender because I know there is no such thing.  These are all false constructs.  I've said before that I identify as male in my head, but I know that I'm using a socially-constructed definition of the word "male" - if we changed our definitions or I moved to another culture, my identity would probably change and I'm OK with that.  I didn't really bother to identify as anything until people started trying to make me be more of a "lady".  But if we are going with the baseline of stereotypical American Man, there isn't anything I can think of that is more masculine than a dancer.  I know the power, the strength, and the dominance that is required to be a good male dancer.  Everything that a good ol' boy is supposed to be - strong, a leader, supportive, someone to guide and take care of his partner - all are required in ballroom dancing.

There are two contestants who are used to being "manly" men.  We have another football star and we have a cowboy who holds the world record for the highest number of rodeo championships ever won by a single person.  And both of them are absolutely terrified of what other people will think of them when they step out on that floor.  The cowboy in particular reminded me of just about every guy I've ever tried to get dance, which is just so confusing to me, especially in the country-western culture because two-stepping and line dancing *are* considered valid pasttimes for macho men and cowboys and many role models in that culture are also good dancers.  Many of them recognize that dancing skills can be an effective pickup tool and get them the hot chicks.  So the cowboy kept questioning the moves his partner was giving him during the cha-cha lesson, questioning their masculinity.  I believe some of the comments were "that's not a guy's move, is it?" and "c'mon, that's a cheerleader move!"  He's afraid to have his masculinity called into question by dancing and he's afraid his buddies will make fun of him for dancing.  In fact, he was so afraid of what his buddies would think, that it affected his performance on the floor, and he admitted to it in the post-dance interview.

I just don't understand this.  As a heterosexual man, what better measure of masculinity is there than a room full of women desiring to have you master them, lead them through a dance, control their bodies, hold them close and draw out their physical and emotional response?  Why would anyone care what a couple of other straight guys think when you have the opportunity to affect thousands of women in this manner?  Have they never heard the audience interviews at the end of the show where the women are fair fainting with lust after the better male dancers?  The female judge herself is often caught fanning herself and draping herself over the desk when a hot male dancer struts his stuff on the floor.  Some guys are afraid of the latin moves, which require hip movement and strong, extended arms and hands.  As a female who enjoys ultra-masculine male partners, both on the dance floor and in bed, I can't stress enough the importance of hip movement and strong arms and hands.  It is most definately not a "feminine" movement to be able to move the hips like they do in the latin dances.  Bringing a woman pleasure does not, for many women, involve stiff hips and in-out pumping.  So a man who shows confidence and strength on the dance floor and who executes those hip movements that the insecure cowboys think of as "girly" is aaalllll man, to the women watching him.

And while the man is busy being strong and dominating, he must also be cooperative and sensitive and emotional and vulnerable.

Which brings us to the other fear, showing weakness.  One of the other celebrities is a world champion gymnast, who was scolded for not showing emotion in her dancing.  Her response was "as a gymnast, we're taught not to show emotion because emotion is a weakness."  A lot of people confuse emotions and vulnerability with weakness.  I have been known to be one of them, so this I understand.  But emotion and vulnerability are not the same thing as weakness.  In my opinion, it takes a great strength of will to be able to show vulnerability precisely because it's so difficult. 

Being vulnerable is an opening, a chink in the armor that an opponent can use against you.  But it is also a sign of strength, that one can reveal that opening and continue on.  In some warlike tribal communities, the warriors intentionally wear long hair, even though it is something an opponent can use against you in battle, because it shows just how badass they are that they can go into battle with such an obvious "weakness".  In dancing, people are afraid to look foolish.  I can understand that, I don't often tackle new activities with an audience because I'm afraid to look foolish.  Ah, but a man who is secure in who he is, who does not need to be the best at everything, who can go out on the floor and have a good time without fear, that's a man to respect!  Even if he is a terrible dancer, that self-confidence is sexy!  That self-confidence will grab my attention and hold it.  And if he is a terrible dancer, the desire to try new things, to take on new challenges, and to have fun without worrying what other people think of him, that trait is not only sexy, it's charming and endearing and it makes me like him more as a person, it makes me want to go out there with him and dance too. 

A willingness to be vulnerable is a very endearing quality.  It makes me value the person more highly, it makes me appreciate his effort, and it makes me want to reward his courage.  Because it is courageous.  It takes more courage to reveal a weakness than it does to hide behind impenatrable stone walls.  It's easy to be brave when you know that no one can break your defenses, like the guy who stands behind the fence yelling with false bravado, challenging the badass who is glaring at him from the other side.  It's a lot tougher to be brave when you have a hole in that fence and you willingly expose that to another person, trusting that the other person is not an opponent, but a teammate who will share in the responsibility and protection of the both of you as a partnership.

I've been told that I'm very intimidating because so few people ever really get to see behind my own walls.  Even people who *think* they know what my weaknesses and vulnerable spots are, those people are often wrong, and I rarely disabuse people of this notion because I'd rather have them be mistaken about my vulnerable spots.  Even when I tell people that they've been misdirected and are wrong about things, people *still* think they have me all figured out when they're usually way off base.  I expect a lot of myself and I expect my partners to be able to match me, to be my equal.  And so few ever really are.  I've lost romantic interest in people because I see them as weak and apparently that's intimidating to those who wish to be one of my partners because they're sometimes afraid that I'll see them as weak. 

But many of them confuse vulnerable with weak.  What I view as "weak" are practical things - the ability to balance a checkbook and pay the rent on time, the ability to hold a job (not counting a bad economy where one can lose a job through no fault of one's own), the kinds of things that make actual physical survival possible.  But emotional vulnerability ... that is not a weakness.  That's a given.  It's part of the human experience to have emotions and to feel vulnerable.  So I don't find weakness in that.  Hiding one's vulnerability at the cost of never developing intimate connections, that's a weakness.  I find weakness in wallowing in one's vulnerability, using it as an excuse to give up, to make others carry the burden of one's survival.  But simply having a vulnerability?  Of course not.  Sharing that vulnerability?  Definately not.  I find it takes a great deal of courage to open oneself up to the possibility of rejection and to share a vulnerability.

And dancing can open a person up and expose a vulnerability, much like sex can, only with dancing, it tends to be more public, which makes it more frightening, and all the more courageous for those willing to attempt it.  I can't think of anything more "masculine", more courageous, more brave, than dancing, and all that it entails.  The strength of the lead role, the emotional connection with his partner, the risk in looking foolish, the physical movements that echo more intimate partnerships, tackling a challenge, and building a trusting relationship.  No, the fear is the weakness here.  And refusing to be vulnerable is its own kind of vulnerability.  The very thing these people are afraid of is exactly what they are exposing by being unwilling to dance.  They are admitting to a weakness, exposing a vulnerability, and not being a real "Man", someone who is strong and dependable and sexy and self-confident. 

Dancing is one of the ultimate acts of "masculinity", as our society defines that term.  And it's a shame that so few men are up to the challenge.


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