What is HPV?
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection. According to the CDC, 80% of people will have an HPV infection at some point in their life time.
The American Cancer Society states that HPV can be spread through anal, oral and vaginal sex, as well as through other skin to skin contact. HPV can spread even if symptoms and signs are not visible.
Although people who only have one partner can get infected with HPV, the chance of infection is higher in people who have many sexual partners.
HPV infection is not cancerous itself but can lead to cell changes that can become cancerous. Low-risk HPV types can cause warts on both men and women. These types of HPV are called ‘low risk’ because they almost never cause cancer. High-risk HPV types can cause cancer in both men and women.
Cancers linked to HPV infection include; anal, cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, and mouth & throat cancer. Warts and benign tumors and cancers caused by HPV can be treated. Just like other cancers, HPV related cancers are easiest to treat when they are found early.
HPV can be prevented by the use of vaccines. The HPV vaccine is used to prevent many types of HPV infections that are linked to genital warts as well as HPV-related cancers. Although the vaccine can provide great protection against future infections, the vaccine cannot treat already established or persisting HPV infections. The vaccine is recommended for boys and girls at the ages of 11- 12 years to increase the likelihood of being received before sexual activity and when the body can create more antibodies to fight the infection. Both men and women can receive the vaccine up to age 26. Studies show that the HPV vaccine is a very safe and an effective way to prevent HPV infections and lower the chances of HPV-related cancers. Please talk with your doctor about the HPV Vaccine.
For women, a Pap test is done to find abnormal cells or cell changes in the cervix. The abnormal cells or cell changes could potentially be pre-cancerous or cancerous. The HPV test checks for the HPV virus in the cervix, rather than for cell changes. Getting both a Pap test and an HPV test is called ‘co-testing’. The American Cancer Society suggests that women under the age of 30 should get a Pap test every 3 years beginning at age 21. The American Cancer Society also suggests that women between the ages of 30 and 65 receive co-testing. Women who have received the HPV vaccine should still continue regular screening and Pap testing. At this time, there is no approved test for testing HPV in men, and there are no tests that can test for HPV infection on other parts of the body.
Other preventative measures:
- Condom use
- Limited sexual partners
- Regular doctor and dentist check-ups/visits
- Strong immune system
Please contact the SCI Cancer Education Center at 206-386-3200 for resources or more information on HPV prevention and HPV-related cancer.