What Every Woman Should Know About HPV

HPV is the most common type of sexually transmitted disease in the United States, infecting about 79 million people. HPV affects both men and women, and it can be present in both adults and teens. In fact, HPV tends to be especially common among people in their teens and 20s. Why is it so common? Well, first of all, it’s really easy to transmit through intimate contact. And second, HPV is actually a family of viruses, and not everyone is infected with the same specific type of HPV, or human papillomavirus. 

While some HPV infections clear up on their own, other types of HPV can cause genital warts, and they can even increase your risk of getting cervical cancer in the future. If you’ve been diagnosed with an HPV infection or if you think you might be at risk of an infection, here’s a quick review on what HPV is, how it can be prevented, and what to do if you’ve already been infected.

The basics of HPV 

HPV is a family of viruses with nearly 100 members, and it’s almost always spread through sexual contact, including vaginal sex, anal sex and oral sex. Most sexually active people come in contact with the virus at some point in time, but in most cases, the infections clear up on their own, with no noticeable symptoms. But other times, the type of HPV that causes the infection can be a lot stronger. And in those cases, it may not clear up on its own — and it might not even clear up entirely with medication. 

Two of these more stubborn types of HPV (type 6 and type 11) cause genital warts, fleshy growths that appear around your genitals and cause discomfort, itching, and sometimes mild swelling or bleeding. Other types of HPV (usually type 16 or type 18) can cause cervical cancer, along with precancerous lesions on and around the cervix. HPV infections have associated with other types of cancer as well, including cancers of the vulva, vagina, throat, anus and penis.

HPV preventions: Vaccines and condoms

Since HPV is spread by sexual contact, you can protect yourself to a great extent by using condoms when you have sexual intercourse. But since that’s not always a 100 percent certainty, the HPV vaccine provides a more practical option for helping to prevent dangerous HPV infections in most people. The HPV vaccine protects against diseases associated with HPV, including cervical cancer and other cancers. There's one caveat: You really should be vaccinated before you start having sex. The CDC recommends girls and boys receive two doses of the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12. If you’re older than that or if you’ve already had sex, you can still get vaccinated, but the vaccine may not be as effective, since you may have already been exposed to HPV.

Aside from getting a vaccine early, one of the most important things you can do to minimize your risks of HPV-related problems is to have regular pelvic exams with Pap smears to keep an eye on your cervical health. A Pap test takes a swab sample of cervical cells and examines them, looking for abnormal changes most commonly associated with cancer. Depending on your specific risks, you might need other types of screening as well. If you have genital warts associated with an HPV infection, there are medications you can use to minimize your symptoms and even potentially reduce the number and severity of your outbreaks. And of course, you should always practice safe sex, so you can avoid infecting others.

Confidential screening and treatment for HPV

Some HPV infections can be completely harmless, while others can increase your risk of cancer. Since you can’t tell which kind of virus is going to infect you, it’s really important to do all you can to prevent getting an infection in the first place. If you’d like to learn more about the HPV vaccine, or if you’re concerned you might already be infected with HPV, scheduling an office visit at Solace Women’s Care is the best way to help ensure you stay healthy. To make your appointment, contact the practice today.

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