There’s no time like the present to be well informed about HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer.
HPV is a very common infection contracted through sexual activity; it is also a contributing factor to cervical cancer. Many with HPV don’t know they’re infected. More than 11,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer each year.
But here’s some good news: Cervical cancer can often be prevented with Pap tests and follow-up care. Cervical cancer screenings help detect abnormal (changed) cells early, before they turn into cancer.
Here are some important things to know about cervical health/HPV:
HPV is more common than you think.
Most sexually active people have HPV at some point in their lives. At any given time, there are approximately 79 million Americans with HPV.
HPV is contracted through sexual activity.
HPV is most often passed by genital-to-genital and genital-to-anal contact. The virus can also be transmitted by oral-to-genital contact, although probably less often. Male condoms can help prevent HPV transmission to females (although condoms only protect the skin they cover).
It can take weeks to years after HPV exposure before symptoms develop or the virus is detected. This is why it is usually impossible to determine when or from whom the HPV was contracted.
There are different types of HPV.
Some types of HPV can cause genital warts while some other types are linked to cervical cell changes that, if not detected early, can increase a woman’s risk for cervical cancer. HPV also causes some cancers of the penis, anus, vagina, vulva, and throat. However: Most HPV infections are harmless and are cleared naturally by the body in a year or two.
HPV vaccines can help prevent infection from both high-risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer, and low-risk types that cause genital warts. HPV vaccines are most effective for people who are 9 to 13.
You can get tested for HPV.
Depending on your age and previous test results you may receive a Pap test, a Pap + HPV co-test, or an HPV test alone.
A Pap test can find cell changes to the cervix caused by HPV. HPV tests are able to identify certain high-risk types of HPV, meaning those that are more likely to cause cell changes and cancer.
There’s no treatment for HPV, but healthcare providers have many options to treat diseases caused by the virus.
If you have HPV, it’s okay.
Remember that having HPV is completely normal; it just means that you were exposed to a common infection. There are 14 million new HPV infections in the U.S. each year.
Planned Parenthood is a safe place to ask questions and be tested for HPV. No matter what, you’ll find the information and support you need—without judgment. Go to Planned.org to learn more about HPV and cervical cancer or to make an appointment.
-Janeen @ Planned Parenthood