Many women are taken by surprise when notified that their pap smear has come back that they have HPV – Human Papillomavirus. They know that it is associated with cervical cancer and not much more. Here are some answers to a few of the questions that we are commonly asked.
Written by: Tara Kraf, WHNP Frisco Womens Health
Medical City Frisco (972) 668-8300
Get the Facts on HPV. Learn more about Gardasil at Gardasil.com
Yes, it is a sexually transmitted disease; in fact it is the most common sexually transmitted disease. So common that approximately 80% of women who are sexually active will acquire an HPV infection during their lifetime. It is most common between the ages of 15-33, with approximately 45% of females age 20-24 testing positive for HPV.
Maybe, you need to be test for other STD’s if indicated. HPV is very common and not commonly associated with other STD’s.
No, you will probably not know exactly when you were infected. HPV can take years to become apparent.
No, this does not mean that anyone has been unfaithful. The incidence of the virus decreases after the age of 30 but many women in there 50’s will have a reactivation, the cause of which is not completely understood. When the immune system becomes depressed for any reason there can be a reactivation of the virus.
Yes, even if you have never had “sex” you can get HPV. The virus is commonly spread during intercourse, but that is not the only way it is transmitted from one person to another. HPV is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, any contact with the genital area; this includes hand or oral contact also. Because condoms do not cover the entire genital area they reduce but do not completely protect against the virus.
No, you cannot get HPV from a toilet seat or touching a commonly used object in public, swimming pools or hot tubs, sharing utensils or holding hands.
No, there is no cure for HPV. The virus will typically clear it self in about a year, but it can become dormant and reactivate even years later. About 20 % of women will have a persistent infection; this puts them at risk for developing a precancerous lesion but does not mean that they will develop cancer, most never progress. The average time from HPV infection to cancer is at least 20 years.
No, the vaccine will not keep you from getting all of the types of HPV; there are over 100 types of HPV, 40 of which infect the genital tract, 15 of those are considered carcinogenic. It will prevent the most common types associated with cervical cancer. There are two vaccines currently available, Gardasil is effective against four of the high risk types of HPV, two of which cause 90% of genital warts and the other two which cause 70% of cervical cancers. The second vaccine Cervarix works against the two high-risk types that cause cervical cancer. We offer the Gardasil vaccine.
No, getting the vaccine will not keep the virus from progressing. If you have already been exposed to the virus, getting the vaccine will not change the progression. This is why it is important to get the vaccine early before sexual contact occurs. In less then a year after their first sexual contact 29 % of girls will test positive for one of the high-risk types. 12,000 women are diagnosed each year with cervical cancer in U.S., this number can be reduced significantly with prevention and proper treatment.
Yes, you can still get HPV from a partner that says he has tested negative for STD’s. There is no test that is approved for HPV screening in men. Most men, or women, will not have any symptoms unless they develop genital warts or have cervical changes. It can take years from the time of exposure to when HPV become apparent.
No, males cannot get cervical cancer, but they can get oral, anal and throat cancer along with genital warts caused by HPV. They also spread the virus to their partners. The vaccine is now recommended for boys age 11-21 and girls age 9-26. In areas where the vaccine has been widely used the incidence of HPV positive pap smears has decreased by 56% and the incidence of genital warts has decreased from 1/100 to 1/10,000.
Yes, you can get the vaccine, but most women in their 30’s have already been exposed to the virus. Insurance will only cover the vaccine up to the age of 26 for women and 21 for men.
Yes, there are ways to reduce your risk of HPV and cervical cancer. Avoid high- risk sexual behaviors, limit the number of partners, use condoms, eat a healthy diet and exercise to boost your immune system and do not smoke.
Yes, HPV is scary and has some awful side effects but with proper screening and management cervical cancer can be prevented. Women who get cervical cancer, for the most part, do not have proper follow up with pap smears and treatment for cervical changes prior to the development of cancer. If you still have questions regarding HPV or its management please fill free to come in and let us answer your questions.