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Alexa Ray Joel is DEAD Wrong About HPV: Editorial

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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

Add a Comment7 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Wearing a condom does not prevent transmission

February 10, 2013 - 6:30pm
EmpowHER Guest

There are more than one hundred strains of HPV. It is an infection. It comes from skin to skin contact. Wearing a condom (male or female condom). There are various strains of this disease - over 100. At least five of the strains cause genital warts to appear in both men and women. There are two strains that cause skin lesions which can lead to skin cancer (in both men and women) they appear on the hands and feet but could appear on other parts of the body.
Other strains of HPV about 11 of them - result in carcinomas - and if left untreated can lead to cancer in areas like the vagina, penis, anus, mouth, throat, and cervix. This is in addition to the two strains that most people hear about that can lead to cervical cancer. Getting regular pap smears is very important.
As for how many people have it, stats vary. Upwards of 80 percent (qualified by the words sexually active - but frankly why the qualifier when it is an infection that can be spread via skin contact - that would mean anyone is susceptible to at least one strain) of people in the U.S. and 90 percent in Europe are said to have experienced one or more strains of HPV over their lifetime.
Doctors will tell you that in general terms, (making sure to monitor any suspicious cells etc. - keep in contact with a health care professional) HPV, like the flu will clear itself up within a two year window. Also HPV is a virus that can remain dormant. You can catch a strain and it will not appear on tests or anything else for years and then suddenly, there it is.
One other point, if you catch one of the strains, you are not immune from catching any of the others. Same goes for the vaccinations - they only cover certain types of the HPV strains.

February 10, 2013 - 6:28pm

I take offense with her statement that it is "no big deal". No one is saying that women should be quivering in the corner with constant thoughts of developing precancerous or cancerous lesions from HPV but unfortunately far too many women don't even know what HPV is. She may have been talking about the low risk genital warts and not the high risk strains responsible for cancer and for that I would tend to agree with her. While disturbing it isn't that big a deal. High risk HPV is another story. I'm glad you do what is necessary to ensure your future health but for those unfamiliar with HPV and hearing about HPV perhaps for the first time via this interview they will be given the totally wrong impression. I don't consider trying to educate women scare mongering. HPV and HIV were both discovered in the same year 1983 and virtually everyone has heard of HIV. In research study after study it has been shown how few women have heard of HPV let alone understand that it is NOT JUST CERVICAL CANCER which they are at risk for. And, as I have written about in my book, Any Mother's Daughter, many doctors aren't all that up on the issue either so it makes it even more important that women know this information for themselves. I have seen so many women overtreated in direct contradiction to the treatment guidelines because of a doctor's lack of guideline application it's sickening and many have lost their fertility permanently through hysterectomies. I've lived with it for 25 years and certainly despite my cancers and repeated infections and required treatment still do not live in some constant state of fear over it so I would agree with you there.

December 22, 2011 - 7:39pm
EmpowHER Guest

I think there is alot of scare mongering about HV. I am HPV positive the cancer kind - I have no symptoms and intend to contiune getting regular paps and do what my doctor deems right. I am not going to worry myslef sick every day about this thing. So you see for me I will ot allow it to consume my every thought. God knows I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. So I think Alexis has the right idea. That's just my opionion & how I chooseto live with HPV. If you keep an eye on it & get regualr tests/paps /coloscopies whatever you need your chances of getting cancer are slim.

December 22, 2011 - 11:43am

She wasn't misquoted it is all in how people choose to take what she said and besides the issue isn't about her boyfriend anyway.

Of course opening up a diaglogue is important but not if you are going to spread inaccurate information and misinform potentially hundreds of thousands of others. Why would I take her to task for being courageous? It was something not many others would do and I specifically mentioned that in my article that she is someone of celebrity status we've been waiting for.

But speaking out on an issue also involves responsibility and accountability when it comes to imparting information and that information needs to be factual. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and asked that she correct these erroneous comments regarding HPV. She does have a HUGE opportunity to do something no other celebrity or politician or office of government has done - inform the American people about a virus which can result in six different cancers (most people continue to think it is only cervical) and while she did mention the vaccine in the interview that portion of the conversation was cut off by another question.

I hope this makes its way to her and that she realizes the role she could play is saving so many people's lives instead of comments that it is "no big deal". Perhaps it wasn't for her (this time). Perhaps she will encounter HPV again since at best it can only go dormant and can recur in the future (hopefully not). Whatever the case, understanding that for others this virus has destroyed their lives and in other cases left them dead is a lot different than "no big deal".

November 29, 2011 - 8:50am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Bonnie Diraimondo RN)

Dear Bonnie:
Here is what Alexa Ray Joel possted on her facebook, October 28th:
Alexa Ray Joel
Afternoon, Dear Facebookers!

As I'm sure many of you have seen, there are numerous stories circulating about my recent comments regarding my experience contracting HPV. My intention was to raise awareness of this issue and to strongly recommend the vaccination to prevent the spread of the virus to others. Shockingly enough, more than 80% of American women will have contracted at least one strai...n of HPV by age fifty!!! Sadly, this vaccine against cervical cancer hasn't been all that popular for young women. Fortunately, Tuesday's Vote by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices was the first to strongly recommend routine-vaccination for men. The vaccine has been advised for women since 2006. Still, only 49% of adolescent girls have gotten at least the first of the three HPV shots. And only a mere third of women had gotten all three doses by last year. It is my fervent hope for every young man and woman to take the time to educate themselves to clear up any confusion or misconceptions regarding the HPV virus and to enable prevention. This is a huge issue which I was recently asked about in a live interview-- and I wanted to take the opportunity to shed some light on it in the most effective and honest way I possibly could.

I am happy and healthy now, and I only wish to further promote that happiness and health to others!! If a subject-matter is of such relevancy and importance, it is always my natural inclination to speak candidly about it-- especially if I feel it entails a greater message for all young women, so they don't have to feel alone or embarrassed about addressing rather untapped [and yet crucial] issues such as this.

-Alexa Ray XOX

*P.S. I inadvertently said 'my ex' when referencing how I contacted the virus-- what I meant to say was 'from sex'. My apologies for that miscommunication...

November 29, 2011 - 1:07pm
EmpowHER Guest

I think Alexa IS very brave to discuss this extremely common problem and I believe she was misquoted regarding her boyfriend at the time, I took it to mean that many people get the virus, not that many people get it from her ex. I think this writer has missed an opportunity her to move the issue forward with Alexa's help by instead taking her to task for her courage and for opening up a needed dialogue.

November 29, 2011 - 7:52am
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