What is HPV & how is it spread?
HPV is short for human papillomavirus and is considered the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). While there are many types of the HPV virus that can infect different parts of the body, there are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of both men and women. Some HPV types have even been known to lead to cancer, mainly cervical cancer in women.
Anyone, male or female, who is sexually active can contract and spread HPV. It is spread most commonly during any type of sex with someone who has the virus; however, it is possible to contract the virus without having intercourse. The main cause for concern is that the person who spreads the virus may not even know they have it! HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get infected at some point in their lives. The risk increases the more sexual partners a person has, although the infection can even occur with only one partner!
What are the symptoms of HPV?
Occasionally, the body is able to rid itself of the virus. The virus can appear as “warts” on the genitals. These warts usually occur in the genital areas, and emerge as a bump(s). They can be either small or large, raised or flat in appearance, often shaped like a cauliflower. However, in many cases the infection may appear to have no symptoms at all. Two specific varieties of genital HPV cause cancer in both males and females. In females, cervical cancer can occur. A pap test performed by a health care professional is the only way to detect infection in the cervix. Cervical cancer, in its early stages, has no symptoms.
What can be done?
This can all be pretty scary, right? The good news is that there are ways to prevent these outcomes. The first step of prevention is to get vaccinated for HPV. These vaccines are safe and effective, protecting both males and females. The vaccine is given in three shots over six months and it is very important to receive all three doses. All boys and girls ages 11 or 12 years should be vaccinated. Catch-up vaccines are recommended for males through age 21 and for females through age 26 if they did not receive the vaccination at a younger age. Many community health clinics provide the vaccine for free or reduced cost.
One of the best ways to prevent HPV is to refrain from sexual activities until marriage.
It is important to know that there is no contraceptive technique that will prevent spreading HPV. Using latex condoms may reduce the risk of infection from HPV, but not completely. Infection may occur in areas that are not covered.
Screening & treatment
Routine screening can prevent cervical cancer. The Pap test, which specifically screens for cervical cancer, is one of the most reliable and effective cancer screening tests available. If abnormal cells are detected before cells become cancerous, the treatment is very effective. Many organizations recommend women begin getting regular Pap tests at age 21. Depending on a woman’s sexual history, she may consider beginning earlier.
Genital warts may disappear without treatment or may require attention from a healthcare professional. Unfortunately, genital warts may recur after treatment. Recent research has demonstrated that an experimental antiviral drug can completely clear away the warts caused by HPV. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved an HPV DNA test (a blood test) that can be used to help determine the need for additional diagnostic testing for cervical cancer, as well as the risk for developing cervical cancer in the future.
Visit and talk with your healthcare professional to ensure that you are getting properly screened for HPV and cervical cancer. Early detection is truly crucial to fighting cervical cancer.
If you or someone you know suspects that you might have HPV – or come into sexual contact with someone who has HPV – you need to discuss your options immediately with someone who can help.
Feel free to contacts us at 913.962.0200 to speak with someone who can help you determine your next steps. Our staff is compassionate, knowledgeable and can offer the support and direction that you need.
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