In a recent interview with XO Jane of Sirius radio, Alexa Ray Joel, daughter of the famous singer Billy Joel and supermodel mom in her own right Christie Brinkley, exposed the fact that she had become infected with HPV (human papillomavirus) by an ex-boyfriend. She went on to state that many individuals have gotten HPV from him, while keeping his identity anonymous.
This is something that the HPV community has been waiting for -- a celebrity who is willing to come forward and be vocal about having HPV. Not only are they in an excellent position to educate others, especially those in her age group of 25, but also to let people know that a vaccine exists against the most aggressive strains of HPV known to cause invasive cancer.
Instead, her comments indicate a young woman who is obviously grossly misinformed regarding the virus and who isn’t helping the situation one bit which is truly heartbreaking to me. The specific comments made by Ms. Joel ranged from “It’s no big deal, you just go and get it treated,” to “There are no side effects.”
Over half a million women die every year worldwide from cervical cancer (99.9 percent of cervical cancers are the result of HPV) and that is only focusing on one of six cancers now attributed to HPV. It can also result in vaginal and vulvar cancer in women; anal and oropharyngeal cancer in both men and women; and penile cancer in men.
For some HPV low risk strains such as those causing genital warts and pose no risk of cancer, yes, you can go into a doctor’s office and have them treated. But even removal of genital warts is not without its side effects in these cases, even if only temporary such as pain and discomfort. They can and also do usually recur, even with treatment.
High risk strains of HPV, which may not be what Joel was diagnosed with, can potentially carry scores of side effects ranging from infertility to death. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt that her comments were limited to low risk types of HPV and that she really has no understanding of the truly dangerous consequences which can come along with high risk HPV.
The problem is that her comment refers to HPV in general and given the fact that many people haven’t even heard of HPV, they certainly aren’t going to be making any distinctions between low and high risk strains of the virus.
As someone who was initially diagnosed with high risk HPV in 1987 and lived through various dysplasias (precancerous HPV lesions) as well as survived two HPV-induced anal cancers, I implore Ms. Joel to contact me, as I would love to educate her with respect to the facts about HPV and to make clear the potential damage she has done through her statements. She fails to see the tremendous opportunity she has to alter so many lives for the better.
As a role model to millions of young women and musicians of either gender I believe she owes it to them as well as the rest of society to get it right and not allow these statements to stand uncorrected and without a more thorough explanation of just how much physical and emotional damage high risk HPV can do to one’s life, including take it away.
"Alexa Ray Joel reveals she got STD from boyfriend in bizarre interview - Hartford Pop Culture | Examiner.com." Welcome to Examiner.com | Examiner.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2011.
"Alexa Ray Joel Shares That She Caught An STD From Her Ex-Boyfriend - Starpulse.com." Entertainment News | Entertainment Photos | Entertainment Video | Starpulse.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. http://www.starpulse.com/news/index.php/2011/10/25/alexa_ray_joel_shares_that_she_caught_
"CDC - HPV-Associated Cancers Statistics." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/statistics
Reviewed November 28, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith