No one likes the more invasive parts of a medical exam, but they are very important tools in preventing cancer and HIV. In this case, we’re talking Pap smears. Not just for women anymore. An anal Pap smear can be a crucial in both prevention and early detection. These are fairly new, so there aren’t set standards, and you might need to request one if you’re concerned. All gay and bi men who have anal sex should put this on their medical to do list, and so should women who engage in anal sex.
The main reason to get an anal Pap test is to determine if the human papillomavirus (HPV), a widespread sexually transmitted infection, has sparked anal cancer, pre-cancerous cell growth, or lesions on the tissue of the anus that make you more vulnerable to HIV and other STIs. Unlike HIV, which is transmitted through bodily fluids, HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact, so using condoms is only partially successful in preventing transmission. HPV may be symptomless. Factors that increase the risk of anal cancer include multiple sex partners or use of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. Being HIV-positive increases the risk of HPV infection and vice versa. According to the Cancer Network, 95 percent of HIV-positive men who have sex with men already have anal HPV, as do approximately 65 percent of HIV-negative gay and bisexual men. (Note: There is now a vaccine for HPV available.)
Standards aren’t yet well established, unfortunately, which probably means your general practitioner isn’t going to recommend you get one unless you specifically ask for it.
But there’s a growing number of physicians arguing Pap tests should be part of routine screenings for anyone who has anal sex. As with HIV, the receptive partners are at the greatest risk, but anal cancer is a rising cause of illness and death among all men who have sex with men, especially those who are HIV-positive. If a woman is having anal sex, she should also be getting a regular anal Pap.
The Advocate has the full story. Take care of yourselves!