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August 2, 2007

Are the Headlines Hijacking Your Sex Life?

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THE SCARE: Pharmacists across the country are turning away patients with prescriptions for "emergency contraception." —Chicago Tribune, May 17, 2005
THE DETAILS: The latest battle over emergency contraception (EC) isn't a fight for over-the-counter availability; it's a fight for availability, period. A growing number of pharmacists are refusing to fill EC prescriptions.
THE TRUTH: Some states allow pharmacists to cite so-called conscience clauses and opt out of filling any prescription that violates their personal beliefs. This forces women to search — sometimes far and wide — for a pharmacy that will fill it. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking: EC is most effective within 72 hours of a broken condom or unprotected sex. Pharmacist refusals have been documented in at least 12 states. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced federal legislation last April, called the Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act, that would require pharmacies to fill all valid prescriptions in a timely manner. (Call or write your congresspeople to urge them to support this bill — find contact information at congress.org.) Until such a law is passed, avoid hassles at the pharmacy — find out if your doctor has a supply of EC in her office to dispense to patients, says ob/gyn Tina Raine, M.D., of the University of California San Francisco. Or, ask your doctor to recommend a pharmacy in your area that employs people who will dispense it.

THE SCARE: HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that 20 million Americans have, is identified as a cancer agent. —The Washington Times, February 1, 2005
THE DETAILS: HPV (the human papillomavirus), a culprit in the majority of cervical-cancer cases, is added to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' known carcinogen list.
THE TRUTH: Although millions of women have HPV ("it's the common cold of sexually acquired infections," says ob/gyn Paula Hillard, M.D., of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine), it doesn't always cause cancer. Any of 100 similar viruses can be considered HPV. Some cause genital warts, others cause cell growth that can lead to cancer, and others do nothing at all. How do you know which one you have? An HPV DNA test can tell you, but it's generally not recommended for women under 30 — the virus often vanishes on its own in younger women. After that, an HPV DNA test is optional. At any age, experts say that your best defense against cervical cancer is still a regular Pap test. If you're in your 20s, get a Pap every year — you can get one every two years if your doctor uses a liquid-based Pap test (they can tell you if they do). If you're in your 30s and you've had three normal Paps in a row, you can get screened every two or three years.


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