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What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

What is HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It’s the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV is usually harmless and goes away by itself, but some types can lead to cancer or genital warts.

The most common STD.

There are more than 200 types of human papillomavirus (HPV). About 40 kinds can infect your genital area — your vulvavaginacervixrectumanuspenis, and scrotum — as well as your mouth and throat. These kinds of HPV are spread during sexual contact. (Other types of HPV cause common warts like hand warts and plantar warts on the feet — but these aren’t sexually transmitted.)

Genital HPV infections are very, very common. In fact, most people who have sex get the HPV at some point in their lives. Most people with HPV have no symptoms and feel totally fine, so they usually don’t even know they’re infected.

Most genital HPV infections aren’t harmful at all and go away on their own. But some kinds of HPV can lead to genital warts or certain types of cancer.

  • Two types of HPV (types 6 and 11) cause most cases of genital warts. Warts are no fun, but they’re considered low-risk HPV because they don’t lead to cancer or other serious health problems.
  • At least a dozen types of HPV can sometimes lead to cancer, though two in particular (types 16 and 18) lead to the majority of cancer cases. These are called high-risk HPV. Cervical cancer is most commonly linked to HPV, but HPV can also cause cancer in your vulvavaginapenisanus, mouth, and throat.

There’s no cure for HPV. But there’s a lot you can do to keep HPV from having a negative impact on your health. There are vaccines that can help protect you from ever getting certain types of HPV. Genital warts can be removed by your nurse or doctor. High-risk HPV can usually be easily treated before it turns into cancer, which is why regular Pap/HPV tests are so important. While condoms and dental dams don’t offer perfect protection, they can help lower your chances of getting HPV.

How do you get HPV?

HPV is easily spread from sexual skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it. You get it when your vulvavaginacervixpenis, or anus touches someone else’s genitals or mouth and throat — usually during sex. HPV can be spread even if no one cums, and even if a penis doesn’t go inside the vagina/anus/mouth.

HPV is the most common STD, but most of the time it isn’t a big deal. It usually goes away on its own, and most people don’t even know that they ever had HPV. Remember that most people who have sex get HPV at some point in their lives. You don’t need to be ashamed or afraid.

What are the Symptoms of HPV?

Most people with HPV don’t have any symptoms or health problems. Sometimes HPV can cause genital warts. Some types of HPV can cause cancer.

High-risk HPV doesn’t have symptoms

Unfortunately, most people who have a high-risk type of HPV will never show any signs of the infection until it’s already caused serious health problems. That’s why regular checkups are so important. In many cases, cervical cancer can be prevented by finding abnormal cell changes that, if left untreated, could develop into cancer.

A Pap test can detect these abnormal cells in your cervix. A Pap test doesn’t directly test for cancer, or even HPV, but it can discover abnormal cell changes that are likely caused by HPV. These problem areas can be monitored by your nurse or doctor and treated before turning into something more serious.

There isn’t a test for high-risk HPV in the vulva, penis, anus, or throat, and the HPV itself doesn’t have any symptoms. If it becomes cancer, then there may be some symptoms.

  • Penile cancer — cancer of the penis — might show symptoms like changes in color or thickness of the skin of your penis, or a painful sore might show up on your penis.
  • Anal cancer might cause anal bleeding, pain, itching, or discharge, or changes in bowel habits.
  • Vulvar cancer — cancer of the vulva — might show symptoms like changes in color/thickness of the skin of your vulva. There may be chronic pain, itching, or there may be a lump.

Throat cancer might cause a sore throat, ear pain that doesn’t go away, constant coughing, pain or trouble swallowing or breathing, weight loss, or a lump or mass in your neck.

If you develop any of these symptoms, see a doctor right away.

If I have high-risk HPV, will I get cancer?

High-risk HPV can cause normal cells to become abnormal. These abnormal cells can lead to cancer over time. High-risk HPV most often affects cells in the cervix, but it can also cause cancer in the vagina, vulva, anus, penis, mouth, and throat.

The good news is most people recover from HPV infections with no health problems at all. We don’t know why some people develop long-term HPV infections, precancerous cell changes, or cancer. But we do know that having another disease that makes it difficult for you to fight infections makes it more likely HPV will cause cervical cancer. Smoking cigarettes also makes HPV more likely to cause cervical cancer.

There’s no cure for HPV, but it usually takes several years for cancer to develop, and abnormal cells in the cervix can be detected and treated before they turn into cancer. And the vast majority of HPV infections are temporary and not serious, so don’t spend a ton of energy worrying about whether you have HPV. Just make sure you’re not skipping your regular checkups, including Pap and/or HPV tests.

What’s the difference between HPV and genital warts?

Genital warts are harmless growths on the skin of your vulvavaginacervixpenisscrotum, or anus. Most genital warts are caused by two types of HPV — types 6 and 11. Genital warts look like fleshy, soft bumps that sometimes resemble miniature cauliflower. They’re usually painless and can be treated and removed just like the warts you might get on your hands or feet.

Because genital warts can look like other common bumpy skin issues, only your nurse or doctor can diagnose and treat your genital warts. Fortunately, warts aren’t dangerous and they don’t lead to cancer — that’s why the types of HPV that cause genital warts are called “low-risk.” However, they may cause irritation and discomfort, and you can pass the HPV that caused them to other people. If you think you have genital warts, it’s important to get checked out right away.

Should I get tested for HPV?

There’s an HPV test for the cervix, but not for other genital areas. Because HPV is common and often goes away on its own, it’s not always necessary to test for it.

Do I have HPV?

Because HPV is such a common infection that usually goes away on its own, most people never know they have HPV.

If you do find out you have HPV, it’s usually because of an abnormal Pap test result. Pap tests, sometimes called Pap smears, are very important tests for finding abnormal cells on your cervix, generally caused by HPV. Pap tests find cell changes that are likely caused by HPV, but they don’t detect HPV itself.

There’s also an HPV test that can find some high-risk types of the virus directly, but it’s only used in certain situations. Your nurse or doctor may recommend the HPV test

  • for women 25 and older instead of a Pap test
  • for women 30-65, along with a Pap test
  • as a follow-up to a Pap test that finds abnormal cells or when Pap test results aren’t clear

Your doctor or nurse will tell you which tests you may need and how often you should get them.

If your HPV test result comes back positive, don’t panic. This doesn’t mean that you have cancer. It means you have a type of HPV that can increase your risk of getting cancer in the future. Knowing this allows you to follow up with your nurse or doctor and monitor your health. Most likely they’ll want to do tests more often, at least for a little while, to make sure you’re healthy.

There’s currently no test to detect high-risk HPV in people with penises, so the best you can do is get the vaccine, use condoms, and get regular checkups. For most, the infection will go away without causing any problems. However, it’s important to realize that even if you don’t have any symptoms, you can still pass HPV to your partner(s).

Remember to practice safer sex — this means using condoms and/or dental dams during vagina, anal and oral sex — to help lower your chances of getting HPV.

How to get tested for HPV

You can get Pap/HPV tests at your doctor’s office, a community health clinic, the health department, or your local Planned Parenthood health center.

Well-woman exams include a Pap test or HPV test as needed. How often you should be tested depends on your age, medical history, and the results of your last Pap or HPV tests. Your doctor will let you know when you should get tested, and which tests make sense for you.

Testing for other STDs isn’t usually part of your regular checkup or gynecologist exam — you have to ask for it. Be honest with your nurse or doctor so they can help you figure out which tests are best for you. Don’t be embarrassed: your doctor is there to help you, not judge you.

How is HPV treated?

Most HPV infections go away on their own. If not, don’t worry. While there’s no cure for the virus, there are treatment options for the problems HPV can cause.

What’s the treatment for high-risk HPV

There is no treatment for HPV itself, but if you have high-risk HPV, it could cause abnormal cell changes that might lead to cancer. If you have an abnormal Pap test result, you may need further tests and/or treatment including:

  • Colposcopy — a procedure to look more closely at the cervix to see if there are precancerous cells.
  • Cryotherapy — a treatment to freeze and remove precancerous cells from the cervix.

LEEP or Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure — a treatment to remove precancerous cells from the cervix with an electrical current.

Is HPV curable?

There’s no cure for HPV, but there are plenty of things you can do to stay healthy and safe, and it’s even preventable! There are vaccines that can prevent high-risk HPV types and the types that cause genital warts. Most of the time your body can fight off HPV before it causes any serious problems and before you’re even aware you have the infection. For the high-risk types of HPV that can eventually lead to cancer, finding abnormal cell changes through regular Pap tests and/or HPV tests is the best way you can prevent cervical cancer.

How can I make sure I don’t get or spread HPV?

The best way to avoid getting any STD is not to have sex at all. If you’re having sex, getting the HPV vaccine, using condoms and/or dental dams, and getting regular Pap/HPV tests is the best way to avoid problems that can come from HPV.

How to avoid the HPV virus

As always, the best way to make sure you don’t get an STD like HPV is to avoid any sexual contact with another person — that includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex, and any other genital contact.

But most people have sex at some point in their lives. If you’re sexually active, there are things that you can do to lower your chances of getting or spreading HPV:

  • Get the HPV vaccine.
  • Use condoms and/or dental dams every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Though condoms and dental dams are not as effective against HPV as they are against other STDs like chlamydia and HIV, safer sex can lower your chances of getting HPV.

How can I avoid I giving someone HPV?

The truth is, unless you have a high-risk type of HPV, or have genital warts, you’ll probably never know you had HPV. So the best way to avoid giving it to someone is to never have it to begin with, by getting the HPV vaccine.

Here are some things you can do to help prevent HPV:

  • Avoid skin-to-skin contact by not having sex.
  • Use condoms and/or dental dams every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Though condoms and dental dams are not as effective against HPV as they are against other STDs like chlamydia and HIV, safer sex can lower your chances of getting HPV.

Get the HPV vaccine and encourage your partner to do the same.

Should I get the HPV vaccine?

HPV is one of the most common STDs out there, so it’s a big relief to know that vaccines will protect you against some types of HPV that can cause problems.

What’s the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine helps protect you against certain types of HPV that can lead to cancer or genital warts. Also known by the brand name Gardasil 9, the HPV vaccine protects against:

  • HPV types 16 and 18 — the 2 types that cause 80% of cervical cancer cases.
  • HPV types 6 and 11, which cause 90% of genital warts cases.
  • Another 5 types of HPV (types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58) that can lead to cancer of the cervix, anus, vulva/vagina, penis, or throat.

The HPV vaccine is given in a series of shots. For people ages 15-45, the HPV vaccine is 3 separate shots. The second shot is given 2 months after the first, and the third shot is given 4 months after the second shot. So, in all, it takes about 6 months to get all 3 shots.

For people ages 9-14, you only need to get 2 shots. The second shot is given 6 months after the first shot.

Who should get the HPV vaccine?

All people ages 9 to 45 can get the HPV vaccine to protect against genital warts and/or different types of HPV that can cause cancer. It’s recommended that children get the vaccine at age 11 or 12, so they’re fully protected years before they become sexually active.

But regardless of your age, talk with your nurse or doctor to find out if the HPV vaccine could benefit you.

Are there HPV vaccine side effects?

Research shows that the vaccine is safe. The most common side effect is temporary pain and redness where you get the shot.

One of the reasons the HPV vaccine is controversial is because it prevents a sexually transmitted infection, which leads some people to believe it’s inappropriate for children. But, the thing is, the vaccine works best if you get it long before you have sex. So it’s a good idea to get it when you’re young so you won’t have to worry about getting certain kinds of cancer later in life.

Studies show that the HPV vaccine doesn’t lead to people having more sex or sex at a younger age. So giving kids the HPV vaccine doesn’t encourage them to have sex. All it does is help protect them from genital warts and cancer in adulthood.

If I already have an HPV infection, can the vaccine treat it?

Nope. If you already have an HPV infection, getting an HPV vaccine can’t treat it. It can, however, protect you from getting other types of HPV.

If you have an HPV infection, talk with your doctor or nurse to find out what tests or treatment you need.

Do I still need to get Pap/HPV tests if I got the HPV vaccine?

Yup. Pap tests are still an important way to find and prevent cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine doesn’t protect against all types of HPV that can cause cancer. So it’s still important to get Pap/HPV tests to find any cell changes that might lead to cervical cancer.

Is there a HPV Vaccine for Boys/Men?

Yes, boys/men can also get the HPV vaccine, which goes by the brand name Gardasil 9. The HPV vaccine protects against:

  • HPV types 16 and 18 — the 2 types that cause 80% of cervical cancer cases.
  • HPV types 6 and 11, which cause 90% of genital warts cases.
  • Another 5 types of HPV (types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58) that can lead to cancer of the cervix, anus, vulva/vagina, penis, or throat.

All people ages 9 to 45 can get the HPV vaccine to protect against genital warts as well as HPV-related cancer. It’s recommended that children get the vaccine at age 11 or 12, so they’re fully protected years before they become sexually active. If that seems weird, rest assured that studies show that getting the vaccine doesn’t lead to people having more sex or sex at a younger age. All it does is help protect them from genital warts and cancer in adulthood.

Source: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/hpv

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