Human Papillomavirus, or HPV for short, is the most common sexually transmitted infection. There are more than 200 types of HPV. They can infect your genital areas as well as your month and throat. HPV is extremely common that nearly all men and women get it at some point in their lives. Nearly 80 million Americans are currently infected with some type of HPV.
Sexually transmitted HPV types fall in to two groups, low risk and high risk:
Low risk: mostly cause no disease. However, a few low-risk HPV types can cause warts on or around the genitals, anus, mouth or throat.
Genital warts: can appear as a small bump or groups of bumps In the genital area. They looks like fleshy, soft bumps that can look like a miniature cauliflower. The appearance can vary so its best to see a healthcare provider to confirm.
Some people may not show signs or symptoms but can still pass it on to others. In most cases, HPV can go away on its own and does not cause any health problems.
High risk: can cause several types of cancers. This includes cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. HPV infection can also cause cancer the throat, tongue, and tonsils. It’s important to know that cancer can take years, even decades to develop after a person gets HPV. Unfortunately, there is no way to know if a person with HPV will develop cancer or other health problems, which is why it's so important to get regular check ups with your healthcare provider.
How is HPV transmitted?
HPV is transmitted through vaginal intercourse, anal sex, and oral sex. HPV passes easily between sexual partners. Use of condoms or dental dams can reduce the likelihood of passing HPV but do not completely prevent it.
How does HPV cause cancer?
Once high-risk HPV infects cells, it can interfere with the ways cells communicate with each other, which causes infected cells to start multiplying in an uncontrolled manner. Usually, the immune system can recognize these occurrence and control them. However, if the infected cells remain and continue to grow, it can turn into precancerous cells, that if not treated, can become cancer. Research shows that it can sometimes take 10 - 20 years, or even longer, for HPV infected cervical cells to develop in cancer.
Is HPV preventable?
HPV is not 100% preventable, but there are multiple ways to greatly lower your chance of getting HPV. The most effective way to lower your chances of HPV is to get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine has been throughly tested and is safe and effective. HPV vaccines protects against common HPV types that cause most genital warts, as well as high risk HPV types that cause most HPV related cancers. (It’s important to note that there are other types of HPV that cause common warts - like hand warts or plantar warts on the feet - but these are not sexually transmitted.)
Since 2006, HPV vaccines have been recommended in a three-dose series given over 6 months. In 2016, the CDC changed the recommendation to two doses for boys and girls starting the vaccine before their 15th birthday. It is recommended for girls and boys to get vaccinated at 11 or 12 years of age. The second dose should be given 6-12 months after the first dose. Teens and young adults who start the series between 15 and 26 years old still need 3 doses of the HPV vaccine.
Since HPV doesn’t always present with symptoms, it is important to get screening tests to check for disease. Currently, women can check for cervical cancer through Pap tests. Women ages 21-29 should get tested every 3 years. Women ages 30 - 65 should get tested every 5 years.
If you have concerns, or want to get tested for HPV or other STDs, call our office today and make an appointment with your Blue Hills doctor.