What is HPV and how can I reduce my risk of getting it?

What is HPV and how can I reduce my risk of getting it?

The Human Papillomavirus, also known as HPV, is a sexually transmitted virus. Over 80% of people will be infected by HPV at some point in their life.

There are around 200 types of HPV. There are types of HPV that are considered “low risk” because they are not known to cause cervical cancer. They can, however, cause genital warts or very minor cell changes on the cervix. HPV types 6 and 11  are the most common and are linked to about 90% of genital warts.

There are more than a dozen types of HPV that are considered “high risk” because that are linked to cervical cancer and cancer of the penis, anus, vulva and throat. Types 16 and 18 are responsible for causing about 70% of cervical cancers

Who is at risk?

If you are sexually active then you are at risk of HPV infection and a small risk of developing cancer because of it. 

How can I get HPV?

HPV only infects skin cells and is spread through skin-to-skin contact.  The HPV types that infect the genital region and throat are spread through sexual contact.

How to reduce my risk?

Avoiding HPV all together can be difficult since 80% of people will be infected w/ HPV in their lifetime. Some ways you can reduce your risk of getting HPV are to get vaccinated, reduce the number of sexual partners and by wearing condoms.

How to avoid giving HPV to your partners?

  • HPV is largely invisible, but if there are signs of HPV. For example, if you have genital warts then you should talk to your doctor.
  • If you know you have HPV because you have genital warts or because you have been tested for HPV, your only option is consistent use of condoms. While this doesn’t provide total protection, it does reduce your risk.
  • If you are eligible you and your partner should be vaccinated against HPV. Since there are more than 200 types of HPV, the vaccination can protect you from the ones that you don’t already have.

How to reduce my risk of getting a HPV related disease?

Ways to reduce your risk of getting cancer:

  • Stop smoking
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle
  • Exercise regularly
  • Don’t drink in excess

When you keep your body in good shape, this will help boost your immune system and maintain its health to fight off infections that can include HPV types.

Options to avoid getting HPV

Vaccinations

Vaccination is the best way to prevent getting HPV for both girls and boys. The World Health Organization (WHO) and virtually all countries in the world now recommend vaccination. With over 200 million doses distributed, no significant side effects have been identified other than the temporary reaction at the injection site. Gardasil 9 is a vaccine that helps protect against the 9 types of HPV that are responsible for the majority of HPV-related cancers and diseases (including types 6, 11, 16, 18 discussed before). Like other vaccines, GARDASIL 9 works to help prevent disease when given before there is any contact with the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends HPV vaccination for children at age 11 or 12. However, the vaccine is approved for ages 9-26.

Reduce number of sexual partners

You can lower your risk of coming in contact with the virus by reducing the number of sexual partners that you have at one time.

Wear Condoms!

Condoms partially reduce the risk of infection because they cover (protect) only partially the skin of the genital tract. The more consistent the use of condoms, the higher the amount of protection. Condom use 100% of the time reduces the risk of spreading HPV by about 70%. Less frequent use means less protection.

HPV Screening

The only HPV testing available is for cervical HPV.

  • HPV testing of specimens taken from the cervix may be available for some women as part of being screened for cervical cancer
  • Currently, there are no approved HPV testing or screening procedures for men and there are no blood tests for HPV.

There is no specific treatment for HPV infection yet, but it is important to look for and treat any pre-cancerous cells found as part of the screening process.

PAP smear tests can detect early signs of abnormal cell changes of the cervix and allow for early treatment and prevention of cancer. The HPV test is available with the PAP test for women who are 30 yrs of age and older.

If dysplasia is identified on PAP smear tests it is usually followed by colposcopy which is viewing of the cervix w/ magnification of the cervix with a colposcope. It is common for biopsies to be performed at that time which is a removal of a small piece of tissue that is sent to the laboratory to be evaluated under a microscope

Having HPV is the main risk factor for cervical cancer, and prevention still centers on vaccination to prevent HPV infection and screening for cervical pre-cancers. If in doubt consult your healthcare provider.

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