Human Papillomavirus — better known as HPV — was the topic of Thursday’s Southwest Kansas Cancer Coalition meeting, a new organization looking to spread information to Garden City and the surrounding area.

Dr. Lindsay Byrnes was the speaker for Thursday’s meeting at Heartland Cancer Center, where she discussed information on HPV. About 20 medical professionals and community members attended the meeting. Byrnes is a hospitalist in Wichita and the medical director for the Finney County Health Department.

“It really is the only vaccine we have to prevent cancer,” Byrnes said of the HPV vaccine. “It is one of the only vaccines that has been been approved for such a wide age range and continues to evolve ... We are seeing more and more indication for it ... I can confidently tell you that it is a very safe vaccine.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV can be spread by sexual intercourse and can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms.

Byrnes said there are 120 types of HPV, and 40 are known to cause cancer.

“It is a ubiquitous virus. It is everywhere,” Byrnes said. “One in four adults can be infected at any time in their life.”

HPV can cause various cancers, including cervical, penile, vaginal, anal, head and neck cancer, all of which can effect both men and women, Byrnes said.

The HPV vaccine is not required for school enrollment immunizations but is recommended, Byrnes said.

Byrnes said it’s just as important for men as for women to vaccinate and check for HPV.

During the meeting, several of those in attendance expressed that there was a negative stigma toward the HPV vaccine, including side effects, as well as the thought of parents encouraging their children to engage in sexual activities because they have the vaccine.

“Framing the idea that we have a vaccine that prevents cancer is really the way you look at this,” Byrnes said in response. “If we had a vaccine to prevent breast cancer, do you not think people would be screaming off the rooftops?”

The Southwest Kansas Cancer Coalition is part of the Kansas Cancer Partnership.

“It’s a statewide organization and we have four cancer coalitions right now across the state,” Ashley Adorante, outreach coordinator for the Midwest Cancer Alliance and the Kansas Cancer Partnership, said following Thursday’s meeting. “The southwest coalition, that’s the one in Garden City. It’s cancer professionals or cancer survivors just interested in the care or the cancer field. They come together to talk about cancer-related topics in their community and work on projects that can help benefit the community.”

Adorante said the Southwest Kansas Coalition — which formed earlier this year — is still in its planning stages.

The Southwest Kansas Cancer Coalition hosts meetings in odd months of the year, according to Heather Wright-Renick, director of St. Catherine Hospital’s Breast Center. The meetings for the coalition will be about various topics related to cancer.

“This is to bring all of our communities together,” said Wright-Renick, who helps facilitate the meetings, noting that things that can be discussed include what resources are available in southwest Kansas, as well as needs, educating and providing resources.

In a previous meeting there was representation from various southwest Kansas communities. Wright-Renick said the organization is looking for other counties to participate in the group. Those interested in joining the coalition, or seeking more information, may contact Beth Koksal, Livewell Finney County’s health director, at 620-765-1180.

The next meeting for the Southwest Kansas Cancer Coalition will be held at noon Sept. 19 at St. Catherine Hospital, and the topic will be skin cancer.