HPV Facts

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Most people who are sexually active will be exposed to it at some point in their lifetime. On average, 80% of sexually active woman and 90% of sexually active men will be exposed at some point in their life. HPV is a group of more than 150 virus types, which are individually numbered. These viruses can only live in certain types of cells called squamous epithelial cells. These specific cells are found on the surface of the skin and mucosal surfaces, such as the mouth, throat, vaginal, penis, etc. Considering there are several types of HPV viruses, some are more dangerous than others. Some strains of HPV cause genital warts, which are non-cancerous growths. However, other types of HPV are known to cause cancer, including cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, penis, and parts of the mouth/throat.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 80 million people are currently infected with HPV in the United States alone. Additionally, about 14 million people are newly infected each year with the virus. Of those infected, about 35,000 patients, both men and women, will be diagnosed with an HPV related cancer yearly. Breaking those numbers down even further, it is estimated that 12,000 of those are women diagnosed with Cervical Cancer yearly.

HPV is transmitted through direct sexual contact and is typically asymptomatic in patients. Unless patients develop genital warts, they often have no idea they carry the virus. This makes it very easy to pass the virus on to others during intercourse. Considering this, it is very important to limit the amount of sexual partners that you have and use condoms when sexually active to help decrease the spread of this virus.

Besides using condoms, the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, is an effective way to protect yourself and your loved ones against contracting the virus and potential developing an HPV related cancer. Since the vaccination was first introduced in 2006, there has been a significant reduction in infection rates. This vaccine currently protects against 9 different strains of HPV, which are the most dangerous strains and are the ones that are linked to an increase risk of cancer. The vaccine is indicated for both men and women, but it works best if given before you become sexually active. Therefore, the CDC recommends that your child gets vaccinated between the ages of 10-12. If you choose to not have your child vaccinated at a young age, they can still get the vaccine up until age 26. In recent years, the age indication for the vaccine has increased to age 45, but this is not recommended to all patients. If you are between the ages of 27 and 45 and have never received the vaccine, talk to us about whether or not the vaccine would be beneficial for you. The vaccine is not as effective if you have already been exposed to the virus. If given before exposure, the vaccine can prevent up to 99% of cancers caused by HPV.

Most people who are infected with HPV naturally clear the infection on their own over time. However, this is not always the case. Chronic infections, especially when causes by certain high-risk strains can lead to cancer. Although there is no known treatment for the virus itself, there are certain supplements that you can take to boost your immune system and help your body clear the infection. If you have been diagnosed with HPV, it is recommended that you take 1g of Folic Acid, normally broken up into 2 doses per day, and Ester-C. If your body does clear the infection, you can still get re-infected. Therefore, prevention and screening is very important.

Women are tested for HPV by doing regular PAP smears starting at age 21. This test is preformed at your yearly GYN exam and is relatively painless. A sample of cells is taken from the cervix during a pelvic exam using a small brush. The sample is then sent to a lab for evaluation. The PAP testes for cervical cell changes as well as for the presence of the HPV virus. If the PAP comes back positive for either HPV or cell changes, further testing with a cervical biopsy may be necessary.

If you have further questions or concerns about the HPV virus and its potential complications, please give the office a call and make an appointment today. We are here to help and educate you!

Author
Taylore Passero PA-C

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