The human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common viruses out there, and yet there are plenty of myths and misconceptions surrounding HPV. How do I get HPV? Can it be treated? How safe and effective is HPV treatment or the HPV vaccine? These are all questions you may be asking or have asked other people, perhaps even leading you to believe some inaccurate ideas about HPV that may be putting your health at risk. Here’s what our OB/GYN, Dr. Susan Fox, says about HPV.
What Is HPV?
According to the CDC, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Every year, millions of people are infected with HPV, many of them young adults. You may have heard of other STIs, such as HIV and HSV (herpes). There are many different types of HPV, and some types can cause health problems such as genital warts and cancers.
However, there are vaccines that can stop these health problems from happening if you contract HPV. This may be surprising, but most adult men and women will get the HPV virus sometime over the course of their life. Fortunately, most of those infections won’t lead to cancer, but when this does happen, HPV can cause cervical and other cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, back of the throat, and at the base of the tongue and tonsils.
These cancers can take years to develop after a person initially contracts the virus. While there is no sure way to know if you will develop cancer or other complications from HPV, people with weak immune systems or other diseases like HIV/AIDS may be more prone to experiencing issues after getting HPV.
Myths & Misconceptions
- “You must have sexual intercourse to get HPV.” HPV can actually be spread in more ways than just intercourse. Although most cases are sexually transmitted, people who haven’t had intercourse can become infected through engaging in intimate skin-to-skin contact. While using condoms helps, they don’t completely protect you against the virus as they don’t cover all of the genital skin.
- “HPV can’t be treated.” Unfortunately, there is no cure or specific treatment for the HPV virus itself, but there are definitely ways to treat HPV-related health problems, such as precancerous lesions and genital warts. These methods can be broadly categorized as HPV treatment because they do provide relief to various symptoms of HPV.
- “You got the HPV vaccine, so you can skip your Pap smear.” Absolutely not! Like we mentioned before, there are many different types of HPV, and no vaccine prevents all of those strains from causing cervical cancer in your body. Vaccinated or not, women ages 21 to 29 should still receive Pap tests every three years. Women ages 30 to 64 also should get routine Pap smears, along with an HPV exam every five years. This HPV test checks your cervix for the virus that can cause abnormal cells that lead to cervical cancer. Depending on your results, your OB/GYN may suggest more frequent screening to ensure all is well. Women ages 65 or older should discuss their individual need for HPV screening with their doctor. As for the HPV vaccine, both boys and girls should receive it at age 11 or 12 so that the immune system can best respond to the vaccine. However, those ages aren’t the cap—the HPV vaccine can be given to males and females as early as age 9 and up to age 45.
HPV Treatment | Dr. Susan Fox, OB/GYN
Dr. Fox and her team of devoted professionals go the extra mile to ensure their patients are completely satisfied after each appointment, answering any questions a patient may have. If you need a dependable OB/GYN specialist for routine gynecological care or a knowledgeable practitioner to prescribe HPV treatment, Dr. Susan Fox’s Center for Women is here for you. Give us a call today!